Wednesday, 4 April 2012
Anthony Abbot - About the Murder of the Clergyman's Mistress (1931)
The well-dressed and erudite Thatcher Colt has an advantage over other similar detectives of the 1930s. Unlike the amateur criminologists who often had to intrude upon the police investigations and were at the mercy of wrong-headed decisions, Colt is able to avoid these problems. After all, he is the Police Commissioner of New York City.
In About the Murder of the Clergyman's Mistress (who can resist that title?), Colt investigates not only the death of the titular lady but also that of the clergyman himself, both bodies discovered in a row-boat drifting down the East River. His inquiries are hampered by the reticence and hypocrisy of the Reverend Timothy Beazeley's family and congregation as well as the glib explanations of the family's lawyer (in the most entertaining character interactions of the novel).
While clearly Van Dine inspired, Thatcher Colt is less insufferable than Philo Vance (which perhaps takes some of the humour out of the novel through a lack of over-the-top personality and conflict between a snooty detective and the police), although he does engage in the same Philo Vancian mystification of his chronicler. Unsurprisingly, with a lead character who heads the police department, there's a greater emphasis on police procedure than in the Van Dine novels.