I’ve been able, in only the briefest of online searches, to find little on the British pulp writer James Ronald, but the small amount of his material I have read thus far has been very enjoyable.
Adey lists four impossible crimes: the novels Six Were to Die, a.k.a. The Dark Angel (1932), Cross Marks the Spot (1933), and They Can’t Hang Me (1938), and the short story ‘Too Many Motives’ (1930), originally published in the now defunct 20 Story Magazine in the April of that year. I’m not going to pretend for a second that Ronald is one of the genre’s stylists, or most accomplished misleaders and plotters, but his use of the pulp trappings to tell a story appeals to my sensibilities immensely. On the recommendation of John Norris I have already acquired the Ronald novels Murder in the Family (1936) and This Way Out (1940), and you can expect reports on those in due course.
Today, however, belongs to the business tycoon Mark Savile, who upon turning 54 invites to dine at his home four men. Four friends? No. Savile is so brazen in his disregard of the feelings of others that he may not be possessed of any friends in the normal sense of the word, and so he “celebrated his fifty-fourth birthday by a dinner party to four men of the many who hated him”. Our guest list comprises John Borrow — “whose best friend had shot himself, driven out of his mind by the ruin that Savile had brought upon him”; Harold Denholm — over whom “Savile had a powerful hold”; Lord Clavering — aware “Savile was the only one who knew the real condition” of a company in which he has a stake; and Dennis Barclay — whose “young lady jilted him for another man — a man named Savile”, and who tore the invitation to shreds upon seeing its provenance. By the end of the evening Savile will be dead, these four men will all be under suspicion, with only a partially-completed letter from Savile himself to point the way.
Into this will wade Divisional-Surgeon Daniel Britling, on double duty much like in Six Were to Die, as once again he is “quite incapable of attending strictly to the routine tasks of his office”. Naturally, his continued success in such extra-curricular endeavours “did not enhance his popularity with certain of his colleagues” but, well, sleuth’s gotta sleuth I suppose.
A sizeable portion of this story is given over the Savile goading his guests throughout dinner until one of them punches him and the others drag the assailant away, and the mood is conjured up with that delightful efficiency the pulps encouraged:
The meal, while not an elaborate one, was deliciously cooked. Each of the four courses of which it consisted had been chosen with the discrimination of a connoisseur.
The wines which accompanied the dinner added a touch of perfection.
The atmosphere was as strained as it must have been on those occasions when the Borgias dined with their enemies.