Malice Aforethought (1931) by Francis Iles, possibly the most famous novel of uxoricide ever written, begins with a line so classic it distracts you from the opening being, well, a bit dull. This Way Out (1939) by James Ronald, similarly concerned with a dissatisfied husband wishing to dispose of his wife, is happy for you to be immersed in the commonplace before hitting you with brilliant lines of its own, but would surely be more more famous if it began with the following from approximately a third of the way through: “While dawn on slippered feet crept through the silent streets Philip lay in bed examining schemes for killing his wife”.
I’m nowhere near Puzzle Doctor/Brian Flynn levels of adoration yet, but there’s a good chance James Ronald could turn out to be one of my very favourite unheralded authors. Sure, he wrote in quite a range of genres — from ‘a family’s struggles in an unfamiliar environment’ to incident-packed impossible crime novels and, presumably, just about anything in between — and the frank unavailability of so many of his books is going to make tracking him down long and, given the spread of genres, at times possibly unrewarding work, but when he’s good, boy is he good. As in the case of the Osborne Family Murder — with ‘family’ being very much the key word here.
My first encounter with James Ronald was via the puply and hugely entertaining Six Were to Die, a.k.a. The Dark Angel (1932), in which six business associates found their lives threatened by an ex-colleague they had wronged, and were killed one by one in ingenious ways. Six years later, he wrote They Can’t Hang Me (1938), in which four business associates find their lives threatened by an ex-colleague they have wronged, and are killed one by one in ingenious ways. And, hell, when the book is this good, I wouldn’t mind if he’d written this plot another 25 times. In fact, I wish he had. This, my friends, is a little beauty.
I feel as if I’m encroaching on the territory of John Norris at Pretty Sinister by reviewing a book that isn’t all that easy to come by; worry not, John, I don’t have well-enough stocked shelves to support this kind of habit, so it’s back to normal next week. This title is one that — like What a Body! (1949), The Rynox Mystery (1930), Death Has Many Doors (1951), and Dead Man Control (1936) — was brought to my attenion by the Roland Lacourbe library of highly-regarded impossible crime novels, though due to the absence of a French translation did not qualify for the main list. Well, as you can see from the rating above, I think our Francophone brethren are missing out.