Monday 6 February 2012

Victor MacClure - Hi-Spy-Kick-the-Can (1936)

"Those bloody awful books of his were enough to provoke a desire to murder in anybody with a sense of decency."

In Murder Ink, a collection of essays edited by Dilys Winn, there's a humorous feature entitled The Don't List, things to avoid if you don't want to become the next victim with such entire as "Don't go for lonely walks with those you've just disinherited" and "Don't sample the chocolates that arrived by post, anonymously, on your birthday". I can add one that's missing from the list. Don't, at a gathering of bright young things, join in any games that involve turning off the house lights or running around in the yard in the dark. Invariably a sharp dagger will be introduced into the fun and festivities. Such is the background for Hi-Spy-Kick-the-Can. During a glorified game of hide-and-seek in which the partygoers are divided into two teams of hiders and searchers, the lifeless body of children's novelist and full-time sleaze Roger Ward, author of such classics as Mau'wiss the Mouse and Dinkery-donk, is discovered in the dark beneath a yew tree.

The investigation of the "murder in the shrubbery" is headed by Chief Detective-Inspector Archie Burford and the majority of the novel is set in the hours immediately following the discovery of Ward's body. Like the only other MacClure mystery I've read, The Clue of the Dead Goldfish, much of the investigation centres on tracking the movements of people at the crime scene through the use of footprints and other physical clues. These clues, along with re-enactment of the game of hi-spy-kick-the-can, soon prove that not everyone in the game has been forthright about their movements that night and it's up to Burford, who strives to be genial, fair and not given to premature theorizing, to discover what really went on during the game.

This is the type of mystery that I'd call hum-drum and I found my interest waning as I read it. I couldn't muster much enthusiasm for an investigation that centred mainly around footprints and tracking and was in desperate need of a change of scenery. Competent but not exciting, the most memorable part of the book is the ambiguous ending.


  1. The Book Blog Corollary of Similar Reads strikes again. I just finished reading Seventeen Cards by E Charles Vivian in which a group of snowbound house guests play a game of "Murder in the Dark." This playing some kind of game in the dark is an oft used gimmick in a lot of GA detective fiction. Murder at Hide and Seek, Death on Tiptoe, Red Rhapsody are just three that I read in the past couple of years that all include this plot device. Only Death on Tiptoe (a very good book, BTW) by R. C. Ashby was any good at exploiting it with macabre originality.

    I have two MacClure books (both locked room novels) in my TBR pile. I hope at least one turns out to be more invigorating than the one you read here. MacClure had a small output and almost all his books are very scarce leading me to believe he was not very popular even when he was alive. Never seen a copy of this particular title. I need to make a trip to Canada soon - too many interesting books are up there.

  2. I have another "murder in the dark" title resting on my tbr pile but moved it further down the queue when it turned out that the MacClure title also had a similar background. I see that a couple of the MacClure titles received favorable reviews in A Catalogue of Crime so I might be willing to try one more.

    I read Seventeen Cards a few years ago. (I bought my copy from you, I think lol)

    And, after reading your last blog entry, I want to make a trip to Chicago. I can't remember the last time I found any mystery hardcovers in the local bookstores. (Book sales are a little kinder).

  3. I have this one in dust jacket. I read another by him that was decent but not memorable, besides having a Jewish character who wasn't horribly offensively portrayed.