Godfrey R. Benson (1864 – 1945)

6222253Godfrey Rathbone Benson, the first Baron Charnwood (6 November 1864 – 3 February 1945) was a British author, academic, Liberal politician and philanthropist. Benson was born in Alresford, Hampshire, the son of William Benson, a barrister, and Elizabeth Soulsby Smith. He was educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford. He graduated in 1887, and would later become a philosophy lecturer at Balliol. He was involved in Liberal politics and represented Woodstock in the House of Commons from 1892 to 1895, and later, after his elevation to the peerage in 1911, in the House of Lords. On 11 May 1897 he married Dorothea Mary Roby Thorpe, daughter of Roby Thorpe and Nelly Mundella, at St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London, England. They had four children. He was called to the bar by the Inner Temple in 1898. He held the office of Mayor of Lichfield between 1909 and 1911 and he was created 1st Baron Charnwood, of Castle Donington, in the County of Leicester on 29 June 1911. Lord Charnwood was the author of many works, including two biographies, Abraham Lincoln (1916) and Theodore Roosevelt (1923), and a detective novel, Tracks in the Snow (1906) [Included in The Haycraft-Queen Cornerstones of Detective Fiction]. Charnwood was also involved in charitable work with the deaf and disabled, becoming the first President of the National Institute for the Deaf from 1924 until 1935. He died on 3 February 1945 at age 80.

Track in the Snow by Lord Charnwood is a detective story and, as such, is above the average. But it has other virtues that are seldom found in mystery novels. The action turns upon the murder in 1896 of Eustace Peters, a wealthy bachelor, who was found stabbed in bed at his house in Long Wilton ; and the narrative takes the form of a series of reminiscences of the hunt for the criminal and the subsequent trial, written years afterwards by the clergyman who was Rector of that parish at the time. The Rector describes how suspicion first fell upon Peters’s gardener, and how it then veered from one to another of four possible men, until finally the crime was driven remorselessly home to the real culprit. All this is ingenious and exciting enough, but the uncommon distinction of the book ties in its incidental scenes of country life, its portraiture, its strong literary style, and the charm with which Lord Charnwood has invested the Rector’s own personality. (Source: The Spectator)

And Martin Edwards writes concerning Track in the Snow in his book The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics, 2017): 

Godfrey Benson enjoyed a career of distinction before and after making aa solitary venture into crime fiction. Tracks in the Snow: Being the History of a Crime is narrated by Robert Driver, rector of a country parish, and opens crisply: ‘On the morning of the 29th of January, 1896, Eustace Peters was found murdered in his bed . . .  Much mystery attached to the circumstances of his death. It was into my hands that chances threw the clue to his mystery.’

After Benson was elevated to the peerage in 1911, editions of Tracks into the Snow appeared under the name Lord Charnwood. Later it sank into oblivion, but Benson’s thoughtful, well-crafted prose, his insights into human behaviour, and the way in which the story touches on issues such as free will and the ramifications of Britain’s imperial past combine to make his brief venture into the crime genre notable.

5c2ecfc9-e98f-4a90-9161-2eff7e5c56f2Robert Driver is temporarily fulfilling the post of parson at Long Wilton, a position he finds tedious in the extreme. But the monotony is relieved in terrible fashion when, one snowy evening, his friend Peters is found murdered at his country house, Grenvile Comb. Driver takes an interest in the case, and when a chance discovery leads him to suspect that the police’s suspicions about the culprit’s identity may be entirely incorrect, he is determined to see that justice is done. He finds he must proceed with caution, however, if he is to avoid bringing down further tragedy upon himself and his family.
Originally published in 1906, this vintage detective story will delight all fans of classic crime fiction. (Source: Amazon)