Clifford Witting (1907-1968)

OIPClifford Witting (1907-68) was an English writer who was educated at Eltham College, London, between 1916 and 1924. During World War II he served as a bombardier in the Royal Artillery, 1942-44, and as a Warrant Officer in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1944-46. He married Ellen Marjorie Steward in 1934 and they had one daughter. Before becoming a full-time writer, he worked as a clerk in Lloyds bank from 1924 to 1942. He was Honorary Editor of The Old Elthamian magazine, London. from 1947 up to his death. His first novel Murder in Blue was published in 1937 and his series characters were Sergeant (later Inspector) Peter Bradford and Inspector Harry Charlton. Unusually, he didn’t join The Detection Club until 1958 by which time he had written 12 detective novels. In their A Catalogue of Crime, Jacques Barzun and Wendell Hertig Taylor stated, ‘Witting started feebly, improved to a point of high competence, and has since shown a marked capacity for character and situation, with uneven success in keeping up the detective interest.’ (Source: Goodreads)

The Golden Age of Detection Wiki website reports, ‘Why is Witting so obscure?  His detection is genuinely engrossing, and his style is witty, if occasionally facetious.  He could do setting very well—Army life in Subject: Murder.  His books have the genuine whodunit pull.  He can brilliantly misdirect the reader (Midsummer Murder) or invent a genuinely clever and simple murder method (Dead on Time).  He experimented with form: the surprise victim (whowillbedunin?) of Measure for Murder, or, weak as it is otherwise is, the riff on the inverted detective story in The Case of the Michaelmas Goose.  In short, he always has something to offer the reader, and found original ideas within the conventions of the formal detective story.’ ‘And yet he’s barely known—no entry in 20th Crime and Mystery Writers, and only a passing reference in the Oxford guide.  Only treated in detail in Cooper and Pike, and in Barzun.’ (J F Norris, Nick Fuller).

Clifford Witting (1907-1968) was an English author who published sixteen detective novels between 1937 and 1964.  Although his books often are somewhat unorthodox by traditional standards, in them Witting, one of the youngest mystery writers of the Golden Age generation, typically offers interesting situations, appealing local color and some fine wit.  I have read twelve of the sixteen now and enjoyed most of them.  In all but two Witting novels his series cops Charlton and Bradfield appear, either together or singly. ….. All in all, Witting is a noteworthy figure from the Golden Age of English detection who deserves to be better known. (Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp)

Clifford Witting’s Detective Novels: Murder in Blue (1937), Midsummer Murder (1937), The Case of the Michaelmas Goose (1938), Catt Out of the Bag (1939), Measure for Murder (1941), Subject — Murder (1945), Let X Be the Murderer (1947), Dead on Time (1948), A Bullet for Rhino (1950), The Case of the Busy Bees (1952), Silence After Dinner (1953), Mischief in the Offing (1958), There Was a Crooked Man (1960), Driven to Kill (1961), Villainous Saltpetre (1962), and Crime in Whispers (1964)

Regretfully, as far as I know, his books are out of print and second hand editions are ridiculously priced. My main interest is on Measure for Murder, Midsummer Murder, and A Bullet for Rhino.

Further reading:


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC. Hodder & Stoughton (UK). 1941)

Summary: Our narrator, Vaughn Tudor, introduces himself and then leads us through the formation of a small amateur theatre group, in the period leading up to to the Second World War. We follow the fortunes, romances and rivalries of the troupe up until their staging of the play ‘Measure for Measure’: when tragedy strikes. Witting’s series detective Inspector Charlton is called in to investigate. But can the police disentangle the complicated relationships to discover the real killer?

Measure for Murder has been reviewed, among others, at Golden Age of Detection Wiki,  ‘Do You Write Under Your Own Name?’ and Cross-Examining Crime.