Philip MacDonald (1889 – 1980)

OIPPhilip MacDonald (who some give as 1896 or 1899 as his date of birth) was the grandson of the writer George MacDonald and son of the author Ronald MacDonald and the actress Constance Robertson. During World War I he served with the British cavalry in Mesopotamia, later trained horses for the army, and was a show jumper. He also raised Great Danes. After marrying the writer F. Ruth Howard, he moved to Hollywood in 1931. He was one of the most popular mystery writers of the 1930s, and between 1931 and 1963 wrote many screenplays along with a few radio and television scripts. His detective novels, particularly those featuring his series detective Anthony Gethryn, are primarily “whodunnits” with the occasional locked room mystery. His first detective novel was The Rasp (1924), in which he introduced his character Colonel Anthony Ruthven Gethryn. Macdonald wrote more books of the same type and moved to Hollywood in 1931 to become a screen writer. Between 1930 and 1933 his output rose to five novels a year. His third book The Link was ingeniously plotted and was one of the first books published in the Collins Crime Club imprint. Murder Gone Mad is another Golden Age classic and was selected by John Dickson Carr as one of the ten greatest detective novels’. In later years MacDonald wrote television scripts for Alfred Hitchcock Presents (‘Malice Domestic’, 1957) and Perry Mason (‘The Case of the Terrified Typist’, 1958). He twice received an Edgar Award for Best Short Story: in 1953, for “Something to Hide”, and in 1956, for “Dream No More”. Indeed many critics felt that his short story writing was superior to his novels and they did win five second prizes in the annual contests held by ‘Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’. He also wrote under the pseudonyms Oliver Fleming, Anthony Lawless, Martin Porlock, W.J. Stuart and Warren Stuart. Some of MacDonald’s books have been made into entertaining movies.(Source : Goodreads and several other sources)

Among the Great Detectives suited to crime-solving in the Twenties were several men who had experienced ‘a good war’. Colonel Anthony Ruthven Gethryn, who first appeared in The Rasp, was a prime example. …. Gethryn returned in books which demonstrate MacDonald’s gift for building suspense, such as The Noose (1930), where he races against time to save an innocent man from the gallows; the surprise solution is a variant of that in The Skeleton Key [a 1918 novel by Bernard Capes]. Gethryn’s appearances became infrequent after the mid-Thirties, but he did not take his final bow until 1959, in The List of Adrian Messenger, an extraordinary story of multiple murder that was later filmed by John Huston. (Source: The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, by Martin Edwards)

Colonel Anthony Ruthven Gethryn series: The Rasp (1924); The White Crow (1928); The Link (1929); The Noose (1930); The Polferry Riddle aka The Polferry Mystery aka The Choice (1931); The Wraith (1931); The Crime Conductor (1932); The Maze aka Persons Unknown (1932); Rope to Spare (1932); Death on My Left (1935); Warrant for X aka The Nursemaid Who Disappeared (1938); and The List of Adrian Messenger (1959).

Further reading:


(Facsimile Dust Jacket, W. Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. (UK), (1924)

A victim is bludgeoned to death with a woodworker’s rasp in this first case for the famed gentleman detective Anthony Gethryn – the latest in a new series of classic detective novels from the vaults of HarperCollins. Ex-Secret Service agent Anthony Gethryn is killing time working for a newspaper when he is sent to cover the murder of Cabinet minister John Hoode, bludgeoned to death in his country home with a wood-rasp. Gethryn is convinced that the prime suspect, Hoode’s secretary Alan Deacon, is innocent, but to prove it he must convince the police that not everyone else has a cast-iron alibi for the time of the murder. This Detective Story Club classic is introduced by crime fiction expert and writer Tony Medawar, who investigates the forgotten career of one of the Golden Age’s finest detective story writers. (Source: HarperCollinsPublishers)

The Rasp is a whodunit mystery novel by Philip MacDonald. It was published in 1924 and introduces his series character, detective Colonel Anthony Gethryn. It is set in a country house in rural England.(Wikipedia)

The Rasp has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery*File, A Penguin a Week, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’, Cross-Examining Crime and The Grandest Game in the World.

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