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.