Thursday, 29 March 2012

Henry Bellamann - The Gray Man Walks (1936)

"What are you looking for?"
"His head, man, his head. It's gone. His head isn't here."

Which of the following is the best indicator of the quality of this mystery? (a) The Gray Man, a legendary spectre whose appearance on an eerie island foretells misfortune (b) Miss Euphemia Clay, an acerbic spinster detective or (c) Kizzah the conjure man?

If you guessed (c) then give yourself a gold star! I had reservations about buying The Gray Man Walks after reading a plot summary which mentions Kizzah the local conjure man. Warning bells went off that the book would probably contain some nasty stereotypes and tedious-to-read "coloured" dialect but I bought TGMW hoping that the supernatural element and the presence of a Hildegarde Withers type detective would counter the unpleasant aspects. I found, however, that the legend and appearance of the Gray Man didn't provide much atmosphere and that Euphemia Clay didn't get enough book time, leaving the reader with a sheriff  who uses the n-word far too many times in the course of the book and non-white characters who are at best devious, suspicious and superstitious and at worst murderers, drug dealers and wife beaters. Yecccch!

Mystery-wise, the plot centres around the appearance of the Gray Man, the beheading of one of the island's residents and the investigation into  his murder by the man's sister, Euphemia Clay. But the mystery is fair and doesn't have any momentum to it. A hard-to-find title and deserving of its obscurity.


  1. Oh, dear. I remember trying to read this and not getting past the first few pages but thought it was because I was in a lousy mood. Guess I was smart to to go any further. Even A. B. Cunningham with his frequent use of the "n word" has a far more compassionate and open minded depiction of black characters in his books.

    I'll post a picture of the DJ for you later this weekend. I'll make it a tribute to the Crime Club DJs that are rarely seen.