Monday 23 January 2012

Sherwood King - Between Murders (1935)

"I see the murderer as a man of inordinate coldness, with a mind that moves with the rapidity of lightning, taking in every possible contingency and planning how it might be turned to his advantage all in the same split second. We have to deal here with no ordinary criminal, but with a genius."

I finally finished my first book for the "cherchez le homme" portion of my reading challenge--a book which I chose rather capriciously from the depths of my overstuffed bookshelves. "Sherwood King" meant nothing to me, until doing a search on the web, I discovered that one of his novels was the basis for the classic Orson Welles film The Lady from Shanghai.

James Durstine, a retired defence lawyer from Chicago, has just received a note from Faye Brett, a friend and glamorous singing star, warning him that his life is in danger and that he must meet her at her hotel room that night. No sooner does he leave to met her than he narrowly misses being killed in a storefront bombing. A case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time or is Faye's warning all too prescient? At the hotel, Durstine meets up with Thomas Webley Wilberforce, an investigator from the State's Attorney's office and, close to one in the morning, they are surprised to see Faye enter the hotel with Warren Faggity, a notorious blackmailer. She greets Durstine, seemingly under a nervous strain, tells him to come up to her room in ten or fifteen minutes and then departs with Faggity. While waiting, Tom becomes uneasy and they go to Faye's room only to discover her dead and a man scrambling down the fireplace. Has Faye been killed to stop her from talking with Durstine and has it anything to do with the newly formed Crime Committee, a group dedicated to solving crimes without the interference of political red tape or a bumbling State's Attorney. Durstine has been asked to join the group and a number of Faye's acquaintances are also members. After Faye's death, Durstine reluctantly joins and the committee embarks on solving the Faye Brett case especially when doubt is cast upon Faggity being the murderer.

Firstly, Between Murders is decidedly not a fair play mystery and it is difficult to critique the book without giving away major spoilers. I will merely mention that it not so much that the mystery is not fair play, but rather the manner in which it is not fair play that gives the book its distinction. There is also a fair bit of pulp thriller style plotting; a crime fighting group which includes a member who can decide whether an individual is guilty of a crime after a brief five minute conversation, a mausoleum with a glass coffin, a secret room, a kidnapping, and dramatic entrances and exits. All of which hold one's attention but give the book a somewhat choppy, episodic feel. I also thought Between Murders to be a bland title choice until I read the memorable closing line of the book.

Overall, I found the book to be average with the explanation of how the mystery was not fair play to be the most interesting thing about it. Normally I dislike non-fair play mysteries but I'm willing to give this one a pass.

Pictured is the circa 1970 Curtis Books printing of Between Murders which seems to be the only one currently available for sale online (and, surprisingly, only one copy of that edition is available). However, King's If I Die Before I Wake (the basis of the aforementioned The Lady from Shanghai) is still in print from Penguin Books.


  1. Sounds quite intriguing - thanks Darrell. King is an author I have only ever heard of in conection with the Welles movie so it's fascinating to hear about his other work though they sound like quite similar works in some respects.


  2. Sherwood King didn't mean anything to me until I read your review. That's one really good thing about sponsoring the Vintage Challenge--it keeps introducing me to authors I hadn't known about before. Thanks for this one!