Review: Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland

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Dean Street Press, 2015. Format: Kindle Edition. File size: 988 KB. Print Length: 258 pages. First published in 1938 ASIN: B012XGLMBO ISBN: 978 1 910570 81 4.

9781910570821The action is set in Presteignton Hydro, a spa located near the fictitious village of Newton St Mary in Devon. The Hydro provides residence for invalids as well as lodging for tourist because of its hydrotherapy facilities. The Hydro features a colourful selection of guests, each more eccentric than the previous one, whose main distraction is to keep a close eye on whatever are doing the rest of the residents. The peace and quietness of this place will be truncated by a murder and inspector Palk, with the help of sergeant Jago, is sent to investigate. The case seems to have been solved soon and the main suspect arrested, but just then a new guest shows up. He’s a young man, an enthusiast of detective fiction, and pretends to reconstruct the crime scene with the help of the other residents. Shortly afterwards, a second murder takes place and, as suggested by Mrs. Dawson, one of the characters who happens to be a writer of mystery books, nowadays in any self-respecting detective novel there have to be several murders, two or three at least.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! was Harriet Rutland’s sparkling debut mystery novel, first published in 1938. This edition, the first in over seventy years, features a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! turns out to be a wonderful novel, a real gem. But I have no better words to praise this book than those from Curtis Evans himself, when in the Introduction he writes:

Knock, Murderer, Knock! compares so favourable with the work of Shimwell’s great British Crime Queen contemporaries —Agatha  Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham and Ngaio Marsh— that one might justly dub Harriet Rutland an heir presumptive. In addition to its beautifully designed clue puzzle, the debut Rutland novel has witty writing, a memorable setting, finely drawn characters, moments of shock, poignancy and romance and lashing of literary allusions. The novel’s title alludes to a line in Macbeth and it opens with an apt epigraph from Charles Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers, while through out the text there are references to classic literature.

Highly recommended.

My rating: A (I loved it)

Harriet Rutland was the pen-name of Olive Shimwell. She was born Olive Seers in 1901, the daughter of a prosperous Birmingham builder and decorator. Little is known of the author’s early life but in 1926 she married microbiologist John Shimwell, with whom she moved to a small village near Cork in Ireland. This setting, transplanted to Devon, inspired her first mystery novel Knock, Murderer, Knock! which was published in 1938. The second of Harriet Rutland’s mysteries, Bleeding Hooks, came out in 1940, and the third and last, Blue Murder, was published in November 1942. All three novels are remarkable for their black comedy, innovative plots, and pin-sharp portraits of human behaviour, especially concerning relationships between men and women. Olive and John were divorced in the early forties, and Olive apparently did not publish anything further. She died in Newton Abbot in 1962. Unfortunately there is no known surviving photograph of the author. (Source: Dean Street Press)

Knock, Murderer, Knock! has been reviewed at The Passing Tramp (Curtis Evans), In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel (Steve), ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ (Martin Edwards), and Cross Examining Crime (Kate Jackson), among others.

Dean Street Press

Toc, asesino, toc! de Harriet Rutland

La acción se desarrolla en Presteignton Hydro, un spa situado cerca de un pueblo ficticio llamado Newton St Mary en Devon. El Hydro ofrece residencia para inválidos, así como alojamiento para turistas debido a sus instalaciones de hidroterapia. El Hydro cuenta con una variopinta selección de huéspedes, cada cual más excéntrico que el anterior, cuya distracción principal es mantener una estrecha vigilancia sobre lo que hacen el resto de los residentes. La paz y la tranquilidad de este lugar se verá truncada por un asesinato y el inspector de Palk, con la ayuda del sargento Jago, es enviado a investigar. El caso parece haber sido resuelto pronto y el principal sospechoso arrestado, pero justo en ese momento un nuevo huésped hace su aparición. Se trata de un joven entusiasta de la novela policíaca, y pretende reconstruir la escena del crimen con la ayuda de los demás residentes. Poco después, se sucede un segundo asesinato y, como sugiere la señora Dawson, uno de los personajes que resulta ser una escritora de libros de misterio, hoy en día en cualquier novela de detectives que se precie tiene que tener varios asesinatos, dos o tres al menos.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! el brillante debut de la escritora de misterio Harriet Rutland, fue publicado por primera vez en 1938. Esta edición, la primera en más de setenta años, cuenta con una nueva introducción debida al historiador de novela negra Curtis Evans.

Knock, Murderer, Knock! resulta ser una novela maravillosa, una verdadera joya. Pero no tengo mejores palabras para alabar este libro que las del propio Curtis Evans cuando escribe en la introducción:

Knock, Murderer, Knock! se compara de manera favorable con el trabajo de las grandes Reinas del Crimen Británicas contemporáneas de Shimwell —Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham y Ngaio Marsh— que  uno con justicia podría considerar a Harriet Rutland como su presunta heredera. Además de ser un rompecabezas muy bien diseñado, la primera novela de Rutland resulta muy ingeniosa, sucede en un entorno memorable, tiene unos personajes perfectamente diseñados, momentos de sorpresa, angustia y romance y una gran cantidad de alusiones literarias. El título de la novela alude a una línea en Macbeth y comienza con un apropiado epígrafe de The Pickwick Papers de Charles Dickens, mientras que por todo el texto hay referencias a la literatura clásica. (Mi traducción libre)

Muy recomendable.

Mi valoración: A (Me encantó)

Harriet Rutland era el seudónimo de Olive Shimwell. Nacida Olive Sheers en 1901, hija de un próspero constructor y decorador de Birmingham. Poco se sabe de los primeros años de la autora, pero en el 1926 se casó con el microbiólogo John Shimwell, con quien se trasladó a un pequeño pueblo cerca de Cork en Irlanda. Esta localización, trasplantada a Devon, inspiró su primera novela de misterio Knock, Murderer, Knock! publicada en 1938. El segundo de los misterios de Harriet Rutland, Bleeding Hooks, apareción en 1940, y la tercera y última, Blue Murder, se publicó en noviembre de 1942. Las tres novelas son notables por su humor negro, sus innovadoras tramas y su nìtidos retratos del comportamiento humano, especialmente por lo que se refiere a las relaciones entre hombres y mujeres. Olive y John se divorciaron a principios de los años cuarenta, y Olive aparentemente no publicó nada más. Falleció en Newton Abbot en 1962. Lamentablemente no existe ninguna fotografía conocida de la autora. (Fuente: Dean Street Press)

13 thoughts on “Review: Knock, Murderer, Knock! by Harriet Rutland”

    1. You’re welcome. I must admit I didn’t pay much attention to solve the mystery. Maybe this is just an excuse to avoid recognising that I didn’t have a clue, but I was totally engrossed in the writing and its sense of humour.

      1. I think this is probably my least favourite out of her 3 books. There were too many characters in the book and the killer for me anyways was obvious from around the second death. Think these two issues meant I couldn’t enjoy the humour and writing style as much. Her final novel Blue Murder though is my favourite as she focuses on a family and I think this was the perfect setting for her almost dystopic outlook on human nature at times and her dark humour.

  1. She died in Newton Abbot in 1962.

    I worked in Newton Abbot for a couple of years in the late 1970s. Rutland’s Devon place names are very convincing, to the point that I had to go check to make sure that Newton St Mary really didn’t exist! That area is full of “St Marys” — such as Tedburn St Mary, where lives the mystery/fantasy writer (and much loved friend of ours) Fay Sampson. There are also “Teigntons” everywhere, like Kingsteignton and Bishopsteignton.

    The book sounds like a lot of fun.

    1. Thanks for your information John! Certainly the book is a lot of fun. I very much enjoyed the story within the story, i.e.: the comments about crime writing of Mrs Dawson.

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