When a man wrongly implicated in criminous deeds finds himself at the mercy of a blackmailer, is pushed to the limit by the blackmailer’s avarice, kills said blackmailer and goes to great lengths to cover up the crime only to find himself pursued by a highly-observant criminologist…you’re not the only one getting Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight (1930) vibes. And, Pottermack being one of my most delighted discoveries of the last couple of years, you’d expect The Heel of Achilles (1950) by E. & M.A. Radford to suffer by comparison, but it is in fact simply proof of how much richness the Golden Age was able to find in the same material.
Flour, eggs, sugar, butter. Mix them, put them in the oven, you get a cake. But there are cakes and there are cakes. Equally, books. Give me a baffling murder, the precise focus of which shifts again and again like the first two sections of John Dickson Carr’s The Arabian Nights Murder (1936), and stir in a Croftian alibi trick and I should be in heaven. Alas, this is one of the bad cakes — the sort of well-intentioned thing your seven year-old nephew bakes and you take two bites from out of politeness and then put down and hope no-one brings back to your attention. Christopher Bush has taken promising ingredients and cooked us a turgid mess.
If you’re anything like me, well, firstly my condolences, but also you have a list of books not printed any time in the last few decades that you spend hours scouring secondhand bookshops, book fairs, online auction sites, and other people’s houses in the hope of finding. A lot of them – in my case, say, The Stingaree Murders by W. Shepard Pleasants – are rather obscure and so their lack of availability is understandable, but in other cases it just seems…baffling.