Anthony Abbot was a pen-name adopted by Fulton Oursler (1893-1952), who is best remembered as the author, under his own name, of The Greatest Story Ever Told; he told it some years after giving up on detective fiction. During the Thirties, though, he was one of the leading American writers of Golden Age mysteries. His books aren't easy to come by now, but on a recent visit to Hay I snaffled a copy of Murder of a Man Afraid of Women (1937). The US edition of this book, as with the five earlier books in the series, added the words 'About the' to the title, presumably to secure some sort of alphabetical primacy.
Abbot's detective was Thatcher Colt, head of the New York police. Colt is an interesting variant on the Philo Vance/Ellery Queen type of character. He's a police professional, with a keen understanding of the importance of technological advances in the fight against crime. But like Van Dine and Queen, he has the brilliance of the great detective, as well as an admiring narrator - his secretary, who goes by the name Anthony Abbot...
This novel was clearly inspired by a fascinating real life murder case in the US - the unsolved killing of the actor and director William Desmond Taylor. The true crime is an amazing story, and Oursler clearly used his imagination to think of a possible interpretation of the real life events, while adding plenty of invention to the mix. It's not a bad method at all.
It's not a bad book, either. I felt it began well and ended fairly well, but there was quite a bit of sagging in the middle of the story. I dreamed up my own solution, but it was way off beam, predictably so since it wouldn't have been acceptable given the moral climate in the 30s. There's an attempt to create a race against time, since Colt is trying to solve the case before his imminent wedding, but I didn't find this element of the story believable. There are some very interesting ingredients in the mix, but I wasn't entirely convinced by the overall handling of them, and in particular not by the all-important psychology of the main character, Peter Slade (who stands in Taylor's shoes in the story). There is too much contrivance. But of course that can be said of many Golden Age novels, can't it?