Friday 23 December 2022

Forgotten Book - Three Dead, One Hurt

Just suppose John Buchan had decided to confront Richard Hannay with a locked room mystery. It's quite possible that the result might have finished up resembling Three Dead, One Hurt..., one of two crime novels published by Scobie Mackenzie. It was first published by Eyre and Spottiswoode in 1934 and I'm not aware that it's been reprinted since then.

There's even a Hannayish vibe to the opening scene. The first words are: 'We met on the train, Francesca and I, though of course I didn't know at that time she was Francesca'. She is a beautiful and enigmatic woman and the narrator is immediately smitten. Alas, before the train has reached its destination, he discovers that she is involved with a man called Johnny Brown.

The narrator is travelling to a remote Scottish island, which he has inherited from his late uncle (who was a crime buff with an impressive library of crime books, a fact which pleasingly proves relevant as the story unfolds). He is greeted by his late uncle's factor, a chap called Peter Brook, who is also obsessed by a woman, his estranged wife, about whom he can't stop talking. 

Before long, an incident at sea results in Francesca and an assortment of strange fellow passengers coming ashore and the scene is set for an interesting and unorthodox mystery. I learned of this book from the late Bob Adey, who mentions it in Locked Room Murders, and I'm delighted to have read it at last. Mackenzie was an interesting writer (sometimes confused with a New Zealander who had the same name) and his career in the genre proved regrettably short, but this story - despite one or two oddities - is a notch or two above many others that were being written at the time. 


Christopher Greaves said...

This sounds intriguing, and that's a great opening line. Unfortunately it seems completely unavailable. Would the British Library be interested in it, do you think?

TomCat said...

I hope the British Library decides to reprint this one as it has been on my wishlist ever since reading about it in Locked Room Murders. There are many more obscure, long out-of-print and unavailable titles Adey highlighted that need to be reprinted. Maybe they can do a Locked Library series.

Anyway, best wishes for 2023!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, TomCat. I have wondered about that idea. The question in my mind is whether there are enough good British titles to sustain a series. One possibility would be to include some titles by non-British authors, but I'm not sure if the BL would want to do that. Mind you, Carr has featured already, essentially because his books are mostly Anglocentric. There is also the reality that some very obscure titles probably deserve to remain obscure! I do think that it's important to maintain both quality and variety. But it's worth continuing to mull over the concept.

J F Norris said...

Like the others and you I learned of this book in Adey's introduction in Locked Room Murders. I was on the hunt for it for decades! Several years ago I saw the book in its DJ being sold online. Perhaps this is the same one? It was at a time when I was reluctant to spend over $150 for anything and it was unfortunately EXTREMELY pricey. I immediately regretted that decision. I went back to the website a few weeks later thinking, "It's so rare. Just fork over the money!" But of course it was gone. I'm glad to know that it is in the hands of someone who values rare detective novels. I'm assuming that you either bought it or borrowed it from a friend. Glad to see it being highlighted on your blog!

Martin Edwards said...

Nice to hear from you, John. Alas, it isn't mine. But I was glad I got the chance to read it. One of those rarities that does live up to expectations.