Dean Street Press have recently brought an intriguing selection of Golden Age crime novels back into print, including several by husband and wife writing team E and MA (Edwin and Mona Augusta) Radford. This book – and the other two Radford titles which have just been reissued, Murder Jigsaw and Murder Isn’t Cricket – all feature Harry Manson, a detective and forensic scientist who works at Scotland Yard’s Crime Research Laboratory.
Who Killed Dick Whittington?, published in 1947, has a theatrical setting and takes place during the Christmas season. The Henri de Benyat theatre company are performing Dick Whittington at the Pavilion in Burlington-on-Sea and, in the tradition of all good British pantomimes, the hero is played by a woman. Her name is Norma de Grey and to say she is not popular with the rest of the cast would be an understatement. When she is killed with a lethal dose of prussic acid one night while on stage in the role of Dick, suspicion falls on the actor playing her Cat – but when the Cat is also found poisoned, it seems that someone else must have been responsible.
Doctor Manson is called in to investigate, but as well as the Dick Whittington poisonings he is also busy with another case, this one involving a series of suspicious fires which have possibly been caused deliberately as part of an insurance fraud. At first the two cases seem entirely separate, but eventually links begin to emerge between the two. Manson uses a range of scientific methods to carry out his investigations and I thought this aspect of the book was fascinating. As it was written in the 1940s, there were obviously fewer, less sophisticated techniques available to Manson than there would be to modern day scientists, but I was still impressed by how much he was able to discover by, for example, weighing the ash found at the fire scenes or analysing the hairs inside the Cat costume.
I also found the details of theatrical life interesting. Apparently Mona Radford had been an actress herself and this does come through in the novel, which shows a deep understanding of everything involved in rehearsing and staging a pantomime, including the things that go on behind the scenes! When a book is written by a pair or team of writers, I am always curious to know how they broke down the writing duties amongst themselves. Well, according to the introduction to this new edition:
The plot was usually developed by Mona and added to by Edwin during the writing. According to Edwin, the formula was: “She kills them off, and I find out how she done it.”
Another thing I liked about this book was the way the authors make it clear that they have tried to give the reader all the clues needed to be able to identify the culprit. There are several ‘Interludes’ at certain points in the novel which are addressed directly to the reader, asking us to put together what we have learned so far and solve various aspects of the mystery. I obviously wouldn’t make a good detective as I still wasn’t able to work any of it out despite the hints, but I was happy to wait until Doctor Manson revealed the truth at the end of the book.
I thought this was a very entertaining mystery by two authors I had never come across before. I’m interested in reading more books by E and MA Radford now.
Thanks to Dean Street Press for providing a copy of this book for review.