#43: Owl of Darkness (1942) by Max Afford

Owl of DarknessRegular readers of this blog – hello, Mum – will be aware of how much I appreciate die-hard devotees like Fender Tucker and Tom and Enid Schantz, whose (respectively) Ramble House and Rue Morgue Press imprints have for years been keeping the kind of classics everyone had long forgotten about in print just for the love of them.  I won’t condescend to imply that everything they publish is of equal quality, but some of it is more equal than others and they have jointly brought some absolute delights to my attention.  Unfortunately the latter’s Smallbone Deceased (1950) by Michael Gilbert proved not to be my kind of thing and so I couldn’t really review it having not read it, but it does give me a chance to talk about Max Afford’s Owl of Darkness which is published by the former and I read in those bleak and hazy dark days I now think of as ‘pre-blog’.

This is a superbly earnest Golden Age romp – there’s a lot of ejaculating when people speak – with just enough edge of crazy in its setup to elevate it above the standard English Country House Fare: a thief dressed as an owl (it’s okay, you read that correctly) carries out a series of daring thefts before setting their sights on scientist and his particularly valuable Macguffin.  A warning note is sent ahead of each crime bearing the legend “Fly by Night!” (interesting fact: the alternative title for this book in certain territories) and when the police are called in to help protect said Macguffin…well, what do you think?  Yes, there is a closed circle of suspects; yes, there is a big house; yes, there are shocking revelations and a criss-cross of motivations and deliberate obfuscation; and, yes, there is both a dyed-in-the-wool dogged detective and his talisman genius amateur whom he tolerates and is the one to actually get to the bottom of things.  Nevertheless, do not get complacent on account of this classic crime perseveration: we wade just far enough into the tropes of the genre to get you comfortable and then all manner of surprises are pulled out from beneath you…

Continue reading