R A J Walling (1869 – 1949)

Walling RARobert Alfred John Walling (1869 – 1949) was an English journalist. He invented the upper-class private investigator Philip Tolefree. Walling was born in Exeter; his father was the journalist RH Walling, he married Florence Greet and lived in Plymouth. Walling worked as a reporter for the newspaper Western Daily Mercury in Plymouth before working as the company’s sales representative in western Cornwall. In 1891 in Plymouth he started a newspaper specialising in football. In 1893 he became editor-in-chief of the Bicycling News in Coventry. In 1894 he returned to Plymouth, where he participated in the April 1895 launch of the Western Evening Herald, Plymouth’s first evening newspaper. In 1904 he became the managing director/editor of the Western Newspaper Company and joined the board of directors in 1915. In 1910 he became a magistrate in addition to his other work but resigned a few years later. He also chaired for some time Plymouth’s Chamber of Commerce. In 1921 Sir Leicester Harmsworth (as owner of the Western Morning News) acquired The Western Daily Mercury from the Western Newspaper Company, which before the acquisition owned the Western Daily Mercury and the Western Evening Herald. Upon the acquisition, Walling resigned as managing director/editor from the Western Newspaper Company and became editor-in-chief of the weekly newspaper Western Independent, where he continued until his retirement in 1945. He remained on the board of directors of the Western Newspaper Company until his death in 1949.

In addition to his editorial and managerial work, Walling wrote news stories, travel articles, biographies, short detective novels published as newspaper serials, and, in his later years, detective novels published in book form. Walling’s first detective novel (not published first in serial form) was The Dinner Party at Bardolph’s (1927), published in Paris in 1931 as Le Financier Bardolph. His main series character was Philip Tolefree. (Source: Mainly from Wikipedia)

Philip Tolefree is the detective on most of Walling’s books. Starting out as a private enquiry agent in non-criminal insurance matters, he takes on his fist murder case on The Fatal Five minutes (1932). By the time of his last case The Corpse with the Missing Watch (1949), he has served in the Service, and is openly calling himself a detective, setting up a practice with another ex-Service agent. Tolefree has his own Watson, James Farrar, who narrates the first stories, is dropped, and then appears as a character in later works. Tolefree is not a fair-play detective. He produces solutions that are, according to him,  the “only” way the murder could have been done. How he reaches his conclusions is his own business. Thrillers and puzzle elements are more important. (Source: Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers by John Reilly, Editor).

Bibliography: Philip Tolefree series: The Fatal Five Minutes (1932); Follow the Blue Car akar In Time for Murder (1933); Eight to Nine aka Bachelor Flat Mystery (1934); The Tolliver Case aka Prove it, Mr Tolefree (1933); The Cat and the Corpse aka The Corpse in the Green Pyjamas (1935); The Five Suspects aka Legacy of Death (1934); The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers (1936); The Crime in Cumberland Court aka The Corpse with the Dirty Face (1936); Brocklebank’s Adventure (serialised in The Queenslander, 13 February to (date unknown) 1936); Mr. Tolefree’s Reluctant Witnesses aka The Corpse in the Coppice (1935); Bury Him Deeper aka Marooned with Murder (1937); The Mystery of Mr. Mock (1937) aka The Corpse with the Floating Foot (1936); The Coroner Doubts aka The Corpse with the Blue Cravat (1938); More Than One Serpent aka The Corpse with the Grimy Glove (1938); Dust in the Vault aka The Corpse with the Blistered Hand (1939); They Liked Entwhistle aka The Corpse with the Redheaded Friend (1939); Why Did Trethewy Die? aka The Spider and the Fly (1940); By Hook or by Crook or By Hook or Crook (1941); Castle-Dinas aka The Corpse with the Eerie Eye (1942); The Doodled Asterisk aka A Corpse by Any Other Name (1943); A Corpse Without a Clue aka The Corpse without a Clue (1944); The Late Unlamented (1948), and The Corpse with the Missing Watch (1949). Titles in bold are or will be available in e-book format by Black Heath Editions. Oddly enough only in Amazon.co.uk for UK costumers. Can’t understand why there aren’t available to other countries. Would appreciate any information on how to access Black Health Editions books from other countries.

The Fatal Five minutes (1932 is on Haycraft Queen Cornerstones Definitive Library of Mystery Fiction.

For the rest of his bibliography check the Wikipedia link above.

Further reading:

A couple years after the 1957 death of the great Golden Age detective novelist Freeman Wills Crofts, crime writer and critic Julian Symons in his Sunday Times book review column proclaimed “John Rhode” (one of the two most prominent pseudonyms of the extremely prolific crime writer Cecil John Charles Street) England’s reigning “master of the humdrum” mystery. For Symons, this title was not meant to be a complimentary one.  Symons used the term as as a way of dismissing English detection authors he saw as tedious and dull writers, focused entirely on the construction of “mere puzzles,” rather than deeper explorations of theme and character (as Symons felt he was doing himself in his own crime writing, with such pathbreaking novels as The Thirty-First of February and The Colour of Murder). When some dozen years later he came to write his seminal study of crime fiction, Bloody Murder, Julian Symons argued that there was an entire “Humdrum school” of British detective novelists, headed by Crofts and Rhode but also including other writers, such as the husband and wife team of G. D. H. and Margaret Cole.  At other times he included such writers as J. J. Connington (Alfred Walter Stewart), Henry Wade (Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher), E. R. Punshon, R. A. J. Walling, J. S. Fletcher, Gladys Mitchell and Arthur Upfield on his Humdrums list. (The Passing Tramp).

‘If you want a good new mystery story, spend the evening with The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers. For the armchair fan it is a splendid brain-twister, a few chills, a clean-cut story, and very well put together.’ (Source: “The Engineer’s Bookshelf.” By Wilson R. Dumble. February 1936 (HERE). From Ontos)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Morrow Mystery (USA), 1936)

Ronald Hudson, travel writer and adventurer, visits Philip Tolefree with an anonymous letter written in cypher, which he hopes the sleuth can decode. But Tolefree is uneasy. What are Hudson’s motives? Is his writer-persona a facade for espionage – or something even more nefarious? When a chance telephone call links Hudson’s visit with the murder of a scientist during a country house party Tolefree’s worst suspicions seem confirmed. But what is the secret of Old Hallerden?
Originally published in 1936, this is a vintage murder mystery from the golden age of crime fiction. (Source: Amazon.co.uk)

The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age Detection Wiki, Vintage Pop Fictions and The Grandest Game in the World.

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