Day: May 10, 2020

R. C. Woodthorpe (1886 – 1971)

OIP (1)R. C. Woodthorpe, in full Ralph Carter Woodthorpe, was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 2 April 1886. After his education he held a number of teaching posts in a variety of schools. He later entered journalism, becoming an assistant to Hamilton Fyfe during the latter’s lively editorship of the ‘Daily Herald’. On the ‘Daily Herald’ he spent nearly three years contributing all kinds of things from leaders to wireless notes, and writing a daily humorous column as a by-line. He had his first mystery novel The Public School Murder published in 1932 and it was greeted by the critics as a fresh note in detective fiction and it set an example which was extensively followed thereafter. It was noted that he was ‘a writer of comic detective novels’. He went on to write a further seven detective novels and one non-detective novel, the latter being London is a Fine Town, a book that he regarded as his favourite among his books. He received the detective writer’s award of merit in that he was elected [in 1935] to the Detection Club. He was unmarried and latterly lived in Sussex. He died in Portsmouth in the last quarter of 1971. (Source: Goodreads)

The Public School Murder was made into a television episode in the UK. It is interesting to note that Woodthorpe was himself a teacher of English and that one of his pupils was Philip Carter, the husband of the mystery writer Margery Allingham. His serial characters are Nicholas Slade and Matilda Perks.

Bibliography: The Public School Murder (1932), A Dagger in Fleet Street (1934), Silence of a Purple Shirt (1934) aka Death Wears a Purple Shirt, Death in a Little Town (1935), The Shadow on the Downs (1935), The Necessary Corpse (1939), Rope for a Convict (1939), and Put Out That Light (1940).

Ralph Carter Woodthorpe one of the Detection Club’s most elusive figures.

Scant information is available about Woodthorpe, other than the remarks of Pip Youngman Carter in All I Did Was This, and the biographical note on the Penguin edition of The Public School Murder. The latter indicates that Woodthorpe’s favourite among his own books was London is a Fine Town, which is not a crime novel. Despite his success with detective fiction, and his friendship with Allingham and her husband, his heart seems not to have been in the genre. Perhaps he was troubled by the bizarrely coincidental murder in September 1934 of Dr Elliott Speer, headmaster of the exclusive Mount Hermon school in Massachusetts. Speer was a detective fiction fan, and his library included a copy of The Public School Murder. In the novel, a head teacher is shot while reading beneath a lamp in his home. Speer died in almost identical circumstances. Shortly prior to his death, Speer had allegedly lent Woodthorpe’s book to the dean of the school, who became a prime suspect, but nobody was ever convicted of the crime. (Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder. HarperCollins, 2015. p.279n)

One mystery is why the name of R. C. Woodthorpe, elected in 1935, has not appeared in the list of members for the last half-century. Was he thrown out, and his name expunged from the records, for some unspeakable transgression? The likeliest solution is that the omission of his name was a simple mistake. (Martin Edwards, The Golden Age of Murder. HarperCollins, 2015. p.93.)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets. Ivor Nicholson and Watson (UK), 1935)

Overview

A Matilda Perks Mystery
The English countryside; bucolic, rustic, peaceful. Peaceful, that is, until the body of Douglas Bonar is discovered with its head bashed in. Not that “Squire” Bonar would be greatly missed, for Bonar was an outsider – a rude, overbearing, self-made man from up North who rubbed most people the wrong way and furthermore had had the audacity to try trample on that most cherished of country freedoms, the right of passage on an ancient footpath. Bonar’s murder, and the subsequent investigation, would roil the placid surface of the town of Chesworth, for Chesworth, as most such towns, has its share of secrets which people wish to remain buried. There is one person in town, however – the retired schoolmistress Miss Perks – who seems to know all these secrets. Does she know who killed Douglas Bonar? (Source: Barnes&Noble)

Death in a Little Town has been reviewed, among others, at Mystery File, ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ and A Guide to Classic Mystery and Detection.

Graham Greene (1904 – 1991)

descarga (2)Henry Graham Greene OM CH (2 October 1904 – 3 April 1991), professionally known as Graham Greene, was an English novelist regarded by many as one of the leading English novelists of the 20th century. Greene acquired a reputation early in his lifetime as a major writer, both of serious Catholic novels, and of thrillers (or “entertainments” as he termed them). Although Greene objected strongly to being described as a Roman Catholic novelist, rather than as a novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic novels: Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter, and The End of the Affair; which have been named “the gold standard” of the Catholic novel. Several works, such as The Confidential Agent, The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana, The Human Factor, and his screenplay for The Third Man, also show Greene’s avid interest in the workings and intrigues of international politics and espionage.

Greene was born in Berkhamsted in Hertfordshire into a large, influential family that included the owners of the Greene King Brewery. He boarded at Berkhamsted School in Hertfordshire, where his father taught and became headmaster. Unhappy at the school, he attempted suicide several times. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, to study history, where, while an undergraduate, he published his first work in 1925—a poorly received volume of poetry, Babbling April. After graduating, Greene worked first as a private tutor and then as a journalist—first on the Nottingham Journal and then as a sub-editor on The Times. He converted to Catholicism in 1926 after meeting his future wife, Vivien Dayrell-Browning. He published his first novel, The Man Within, in 1929; its favourable reception enabled him to work full-time as a novelist. He supplemented his novelist’s income with freelance journalism, and book and film reviews. Greene originally divided his fiction into two genres (which he described as “entertainments” and “novels”): thrillers—often with notable philosophic edges—such as The Ministry of Fear; and literary works—on which he thought his literary reputation would rest—such as The Power and the Glory. Greene had a history of depression, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. He died in 1991, at age 86, of leukemia, and was buried in Corseaux cemetery. (Excerpted from Wikipedia)

Selected Novels: Stamboul Train (1932), England Made Me (1935), A Gun for Sale (1936), Brighton Rock (1938), The Confidential Agent (1939), The Power and the Glory (1940), The Ministry of Fear (1943), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Third Man (novella; 1949), The End of the Affair (1951), The Quiet American (1955),  Our Man in Havana (1958), The Comedians (1966), The Honorary Consul (1973), The Human Factor (1978), Doctor Fischer of Geneva (1980).

Although, as I understand, Graham Greene abandoned this distinction later on, in an interview held in the spring of 1953 (The Paris Review, I (Autumn 1953), 25-41) he termed  ‘Entertainments’ such novels as Stamboul Train, Gun for Sale, The Confidential Agent, The Ministry of Fear and The Third Man and The Fallen Idol; in contrast to his literary novels (Brighton Rock, The Power and the Glory, The Heart of the Matter and The End of the Affair). However he did not offer much insight to this distinction, except that the ‘Entertainments’, ‘as the name implies they do not carry a message (horrible word)’. Although it is more likely that the ‘Entertainments’ were aimed to provide him the financial means, at a time when he had given up his post at The Times, to devote himself to write full time. Be that as it may, the fact is that I find, in many cases, his so-called ‘Entertainments’ are at par with his literary novels.

The Ministry of Fear was one of Anthony Boucher’s twenty best crime novels of 1943. (The Passing Tramp)

From Wikipedia: The Ministry of Fear is a 1943 novel written by Graham Greene. It was first published in Britain by William Heinemann. It was made into the 1944 film Ministry of Fear, directed by Fritz Lang and starring Ray Milland. The title is explained in the book. The Nazi regime, in countries it controlled and in those it intended to subvert, built up information on individuals in order to blackmail them into co-operation. This Greene called their ministry of fear.

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Heinemann (UK), 1943)

Synopsis: It is 1941 and bombs have turned London into the front line of a world war. In the shadows of the Blitz, Hitler’s agents are running a blackmail operation to obtain documents that could bring the nation to instant defeat. Arthur Rowe, a man once convicted of a notorious mercy killing, stumbles onto a German spy operation in Bloomsbury and must be silenced. But even with his memory taken from him, he is still a very dangerous witness. A taut thriller and a haunting exploration of pity, love, and guilt, The Ministry of Fear by Graham Greene is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest of all spy novels. With an introduction by the biographer and editor Professor Richard Greene. Designed to appeal to the booklover, the Macmillan Collector’s Library is a series of beautifully bound gift editions of much loved classic titles. (Pan Macmillan, UK, publicity page)

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(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. The Viking Press (USA), 1943)

Synopsis: For Arthur Rowe, the trip to the charity fête was a joyful step back into adolescence, a chance to forget the nightmare of the Blitz and the aching guilt of having mercifully murdered his sick wife. He was surviving alone, outside the war, until he happened to win a cake at the fête. From that moment, he is ruthlessly hunted by Nazi agents and finds himself the prey of malign and shadowy forces. This Penguin Classics edition features an introduction by Alan Furst. (Penguin Random House, US, publicity page)

The Ministry of Fear has been reviewed, among others, at Existential Ennui, Tipping My Fedora and The crime segments.