Friday 18 December 2020

Forgotten Book - Catt Out of the Bag

Clifford Witting was a very capable writer and in reviewing a couple of his books, I've mentioned that he is not only a competent (and sometimes excellent) plotter, he also leavens his stories with pleasing humour. A couple of shrewd judges have told me good things about Catt out of the Bag, which first appeared in 1939, and thanks to the initiative and enterprise of a small press called Galileo, those of us who haven't read it are now able to enjoy the book ourselves.

This is a Christmas mystery and its strength lies in the first hundred pages, with an enjoyable account of a tour around the small town of Paulsfield by a group of carol singers marshalled by the formidable Mrs de Frayne. Among them is the amiable bookseller John Rutherford, who narrates - as in the enjoyable Midsummer Murder

One of the carol singers is a man called Vavasour, who disappears mysteriously during the evening, along with his collecting box. He hasn't gone home, but the following day, when Rutherford and a new friend who rejoices in the name Cloud-Gledhill make enquiries, his wife behaves suspiciously. Vavasour is a commercial traveller, and she maintains that he's had to go off on business. But her story isn't credible.

I feel that Witting was, on the evidence of the books of his that I've read, a writer after my own heart. He was trying to do something a bit different with his novels, rather than simply follow a well-worn pattern. This approach is appealing but - believe me! - it can have its drawbacks. In this case, I felt that the story faltered after the discovery of a corpse. The murder puzzle is quite neatly contrived, with a good 'least likely person' culprit, but the pleasure of the surprise is weakened because the murder motive is thin, with inadequate foreshadowing. So on the whole the story isn't quite as good as I'd hoped, but I'm glad to have read it and the quality of the early chapters provides clear evidence of Witting's ability to entertain. 



Jonathan Blake said...

Martin, the only time I've ever dropped you a line on here was to rave about C. Witting, three or four years ago now. So this is tremendous news for me; my dad first told me about him around 1964 and I read a few then, but managed to get hold of only about six when grown up and buying second hand books. Thanks to you I possess a Kindle version of this one to start reading when I have a very early night tonight. Many thanks for what is in this day a n age called a 'heads up', Jon

Martin Edwards said...

Good to hear from you again Jon, and you are quite right to highlight Witting's merits. Hope you enjoy this one - despite the fact that I have some reservations, it is clearly the work of a good detective novelist. I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.