My Book Notes: The First Time He Died (1935) by Ethel Lina White

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The Orion Publishing Group, Murder Room, 2015. Book Format: Kindle Edition. File Size: 923 KB. Print Length: 240 pages. ASIN: B00TONP5PY. eISBN: 978-1-4719-1704-2. First published in 1935 by Collins Crime Club.

hbg-title-9781471917042-9Publisher Description: Charlie Baxter has never been a success. Yes, he’s popular with women, but he’s not exactly a party guy. A cheerful loser, that’s Charlie.
He has even made a hash of his ‘death’. For, having almost exhausted a legacy left to him by a rich aunt, he has planned to insure his life and then ‘die’. But he has failed to foresee the ramifications of his sinister scheme. And he has reckoned without people cleverer than him – the insurance company, for one.
Then there’s his wife, Vera, who is playing along for her own benefit …

My Take: After I finished reading the excellent short story by Ethel Lina White, “An Unlocked Window”, I decided to dig further into the work of this author, for I’m convinced she will soon become one of my favourite novelist. So far, and thanks to Kate Jackson, aka Armchair Sleuth, at Crosseximing Crime, I’ve added to my TBR list, the following titles: Fear Stalks the Village (1932); Some Must Watch (aka The Spiral Staircase, 1933); and The First Time He Died (1935). Since there’s no need to read them in order of publication, I chose to begin with The First Time He Died.

My first thought to describe this book will be to say that I found it extremely original. It isn’t exactly an “inverted mystery”, but it does share with them certain features. From the outset we know what will happen, and the same title warns us about it. To put it simply, the plot revolves around a plan to fraudulently cash the life insurance of one Charlie Baxter. This plan will be developed with the connivance of Charlie’s wife, Vera together with a family friend residing in their household. However, as time passes, the hope to collect the policy before running out of money fades out and, Charlie, under a new identity, will have to engineer a similar scam.

Let me add here Kate Jackson’s words in her excellent review:

Whilst a dark ending is foreshadowed you’re never sure what is on the cards, nor who will be holding the winning hand at the close of the novel and when I finally reached the end I found it to be a very powerful and dramatic finale and certainly not one you would predict from the opening chapters.

The First Time He Died has been reviewed, among others, at The Passing Tramp, and Crossexaminig Crime.


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Collins Mystery (UK) (1935)

About the Author: Ethel Lina White (1876 – 1944) was born in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Wales the daughter of the builder and inventor William White and his second wife Charlotte Eliza, who both came from Clifton, near Bristol. She spent her childhood in Fairlea Grange, an innovative house built by her father which incorporated his own patented damp-proofing process, the interior of which later shaped elements of her novel Some Must Watch (1933). She started writing as a child, contributing essays and poems to children’s magazines. Later she began to write short stories, but it was some years before she embarked on books. After the end of World War I, she moved to London, where she worked in the Social Security Administration. She later gave up this activity in favour of writing. Her first three, published between 1927 and 1930, were mainstream novels. Her first crime novel, published in 1931, was Put Out the Light. and she went on to be one of the best-known crime writers of the 1930s and 1940s in Britain and the US. Her novel The Wheel Spins (1936) was made into the acclaimed film, The Lady Vanishes, by Alfred Hitchcock in 1938. Nevertheless, she faded into obscurity after her death, but in her days she was as well known as such writers like Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. She died in London aged 68. Recent years, however, have seen a revival of interest in her oeuvre.

Suggested Books: Fear Stalks the Village (1932); Some Must Watch (APA The Spiral Staircase, 1933); Wax (1935); The First Time He Died (1935); The Wheel Spins (1936) (filmed in 1938 by Alfred Hitchcock as The Lady Vanishes; remade in 1979 and again for TV in 2013); The Elephant Never Forgets (1937; While She Sleeps (1940); She Faded into Air (1941) The Man Who Loved Lions (APA The Man Who Was Not There, 1943)

The Orion Publishing Group publicity page 

A Forgotten Woman Crime Novelist by Christine Poulson

Ethel Lina White at Golden Age of Detection Wiki

Ethel Lina White at ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’

The First Time He Died, de Ethel Lina White

Descripción del editor: Charlie Baxter nunca ha tenido éxito. Sí, es popular entre las mujeres, pero no es precisamente el alma de la fiesta. Un perdedor alegre, ese es Charlie.
Incluso ha hecho una chapuza de su “muerte”. Porque, habiendo casi agotado un legado que le dejó una tía rica, ha planeado asegurar su vida y luego “morir”. Pero no ha podido prever las ramificaciones de su siniestro plan. Y ha contado con personas más inteligentes que él, la compañía de seguros, por ejemplo.
Luego está su mujer, Vera, que le hace el juego en su propio provecho …

Mi opinión: Después de terminar de leer el excelente cuento de Ethel Lina White, “An Unlocked Window”, decidí profundizar más en el trabajo de esta autora, porque estoy convencido de que pronto se convertirá en una de mis novelistas favoritas. Hasta ahora, y gracias a Kate Jackson, también conocida como Armchair Sleuth en Crosseximing Crime, he añadido a mi lista de libros por leer los siguientes títulos: Fear Stalks the Village (1932); Some Must Watch (APA The Spiral Staircase, 1933, traducida como La escalera de caracol); y The First Time He Died (1935). Como no es necesario leerlos por orden de publicación, elegí comenzar con The First Time He Died.

Mi primer pensamiento para describir este libro será decir que lo encontré extremadamente original. No es exactamente un “misterio invertido”, pero comparte con ellos ciertas características. Desde el principio sabemos lo que va a pasar, y el mismo título nos advierte de ello. En pocas palabras, la trama gira en torno a un plan para cobrar fraudulentamente el seguro de vida de un tal Charlie Baxter. Este plan se desarrollará con la connivencia de la mujer de Charlie, Vera, junto con un amigo de la familia que reside en su hogar. Sin embargo, a medida que pasa el tiempo, la esperanza de cobrar la póliza antes de quedarse sin dinero se desvanece y Charlie, bajo una nueva identidad, tendrá que diseñar una estafa similar.

Permítanme agregar aquí las palabras de Kate Jackson en su excelente reseña:

Aunque se presagia un final oscuro, nunca estás seguro de lo que está en juego, ni de quién tendrá la mano ganadora al final de la novela y cuando finalmente llegué a terminarla, descubrí que era un final muy poderoso y dramático y ciertamente, no era uno que se pudiera anticipar a partir de los capítulos iniciales.

Acerca del autor: Ethel Lina White (1876 – 1944) nació en Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, Gales, hija del constructor e inventor William White y de su segunda esposa Charlotte Eliza, ambos de Clifton, cerca de Bristol. Pasó su infancia en Fairlea Grange, una casa innovadora construida por su padre que incorporó su propio proceso patentado de impermeabilización y cuyo interior, más tarde, dio forma a elementos de su novela Some Must Watch (1933). Comenzó a escribir cuando era niña, colabroando con ensayos y poemas en revistas infantiles. Más tarde comenzó a escribir relatos, pero pasaron algunos años antes de que se embarcara en libros. Después del final de la Primera Guerra Mundial, se mudó a Londres, donde trabajó en la Administración de la Seguridad Social. Posteriormente abandonó esta actividad a favor de la escritura. Sus tres primeras, publicadas entre 1927 y 1930, fueron novelas convencionales. Su primera novela policíaca, publicada en 1931, fue Put Out the Light y llegó a ser una de las escritoras de novelas policíacas más conocidas de las décadas de 1930 y 1940 en Gran Bretaña y Estados Unidos. Su novela The Wheel Spins (1936) se convirtió en la prestigiosa película, The Lady Vanishes, de Alfred Hitchcock en 1938. No obstante, cayó en el olvido después de su muerte, pero en su tiempo era tan conocida como escritoras de la talla de Dorothy L. Sayers y Agatha Christie. Murió en Londres a los 68 años. Sin embargo, en los últimos años se ha visto un resurgimiento del interés por su obra.

Libros recomendados: Fear Stalks the Village (1932); Some Must Watch (1933 APA The Spiral Staircase, traducida como La escalera de caracol); Wax (1935, traducida como El museo de la muerte y Pánico entre cera; The First Time He Died (1935);  The Wheel Spins (1936 APA The Lady Vanishes, traducida como La dama desaparece); The Elephant Never Forgets (1937); While She Sleeps (1940); She Faded into Air (1941); y The Man Who Loved Lions (1943, APA The Man Who Was Not There).

Ethel Lina White en Leer sin prisa

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