Splendid reprints of a forgotten GA author
On a morning early in 1940 Mrs Mudge, the charlady, arrives at Lulverton Little theatre, home of the local amateur dramatic society, whose first performance of Measure for Measure is due to take place that evening. She goes into the box office: ‘with the still whining vacuum-cleaner dragging behind her like an unhappy dog on a lead she switched on the light. Then at the sight of the seated figure, fallen forward so that the arms hung down, with a dagger driven cruelly up to its ornamented hilt between the shoulder blades, she screamed and ran from the place.’
So opens Measure for Murder (1941) by Clifford Witting. It isn’t until half way through the novel that we learn the identity of the corpse and Inspector Charlton arrives on the scene, which perhaps was a little late in the day. But I do like a WWII home front setting, so generally this was right up my street. I also love a theatrical mystery and I enjoyed all the details of backstage squabbling and difficult casting decisions – more really than the actual mystery, the solution to which did come rather out of the blue. Nevertheless, Witting delivered some nice surprises and this was a thoroughly entertaining read.
I’d never heard of Clifford Witting until last year when Galileo Publishing sent me a copy of Catt Out of the Bag (also a very good read). A little bit of research online reveals that Witting was born in 1907, died in 1968, and wrote sixteen crime novels that were published between 1937 and 1964. His first novel, Murder in Blue, has also been reissued by Galileo. Witting was clearly finding his feet with this first one. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Measure for Murder. I did like the bookshop setting and Witting’s witty style, but got rather bogged down in all the alibis and the timetable surrounding the murder, clearly influenced by Freeman Wills Croft. And the narrator did do some remarkable foolish things, even for a character in a GA novel.
Hats off to Galileo Publishing for reviving such an interesting writer. I was delighted to receive these review copies from them and I do hope they are going to publish more of his novels.