Friday 14 July 2023

Forgotten Book - Driven Death

I enjoyed Nigel Orde-Powlett's little-known first detective novel, The Cast to Death, so I was delighted to lay my hands on a copy of his even more obscure second book, Driven Death, which was published in 1933. It features the same amateur detective, Tony Rillington, so I had high hopes. Unlike the first book, there was no US edition, so it is hard to find. Incidentally, some references suggest that the title is Driven to Death, but if you go looking for it, bear in mind that isn't correct. I've not been able to trace any images of the book, with or without a dustjacket. So it is very, very rare!

There is a prologue set in a Russian prison camp from which a man is desperate to escape. Another man, who gives his name as George Beald, does something terrible. And then we move to the main story, and a summons to Tony, asking him to come up to Yorkshire, to the home of...Sir George Beald. Tony is at this point in the company of a man called Blaggs, who appeared in the earlier book and seems destined to become a sort of Dr Watson character. 

However, Tony goes to Yorkshire on himself and from that point relates events in the first person, initially in the form of letters to Blaggs, and then in assorted notes to him. Sir George is plainly terrified of someone, possibly a very unpleasant chap called Blanding, who is one of his guests. A party goes out grouse shooting and murder is duly done. It helps, I think, to know something about grouse shooting in order to appreciate the book. I don't know the first thing about it, so had to look up terms like 'drive' and 'butt' to see what they mean in the context of the sport.

Orde-Powlett never published another detective novel after this one. Having read it, I wonder if he realised that he was in effect a crime writing equivalent of the 'one-hit wonder'. In many respects, this book is a remake of the first, but the changes are not for the better. The epistolary style doesn't add anything and the book might have been better if Blaggs had been on the scene, or acted as narrator instead of Tony. The angling background of the first novel is replaced by the grouse shooting setting here. I'm not interested in either sport, but Orde-Powlett makes few concessions to such readers. 

There's a 'howdunit' element to the crime, as in the first book, which is quite interesting. The over-riding weakness of the book, however, is that the mystery element is feeble and the revelation of the culprit deeply disappointing. Orde-Powlett could write well and with ruthless editing this might have been a perfectly good book. Dorothy L. Sayers described it as 'good', so perhaps I'm being harsh. However, I'm afraid I did find it frustrating.

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