Monday 4 March 2024

File on Fenton and Farr by Q. Patrick

File on Fenton and Farr isn't a Forgotten Book but a Forgotten Crime Dossier. It was written by Q. Patrick (Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler) and appeared in 1938. The dossiers compiled by Dennis Wheatley and J.G. Links, starting with Murder off Miami, had proved a big hit, and so - as often happens in the publishing world - the bandwagon soon found others clambering aboard. Helen Reilly produced File on Rufus Ray (which I hope to read soon) while Q.Patrick turned out this one and then File on Claudia Cragge, before war intervened to put the dampener on the dossier craze for a good many years - although not forever.

I've never seen any online review of File on Fenton and Farr, which is a testament to the dossier's rarity. I'm fairly sure that the basic premise was inspired by the real-life Hall-Mills case, which has interested a number of crime writers over the years, including Antony Abbot and Mary-Carter Roberts. But the Q. Patrick storyline soon deviates sharply from the real-life situation.

I would hazard a guess that Webb and Wilson may have conceived this story as a novel before turning it into a dossier. I say this because there is a lot of text in the story, while the visual clues (which include a lipstick!) seem, for the most part, to be incidental to the main elements of the story. There is one visual clue relevant to an alibi which struck me as unconvincing, to say the least. Well, perhaps I say this simply because I didn't figure it out, but I'm not sure how anyone would figure it out.

Another reason why I think this began life (at least in the planning stage) as a novel is that the characterisation is less superficial than that of the Wheatley-Links dossiers, the first two of which are probably my favourites among all the dossiers. One interesting ingredient is that I'm fairly sure that the photograph of one of the suspects in the story was actually of Hugh Wheeler, while it's possible that one of the others showed Webb. Overall, quite an entertaining mystery, with a number of clever touches.

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