|dust jacket by |
Arthur Hawkins, Jr. (1903-1985)
Soon after Vilmaes' death is ruled an accidental one, the body of Cynthia Bartlett, a London woman with whom Vilmaes was believed to have been romantically involved, is found hanging from a beam in the basement of a deserted--and supposedly haunted--country house. Suicide, evidently.
Cynthia Bartlett's friend and flatmate Miss Carroll, a feminist and secretary of the Women's League of Amity, scoffs at the police notion that her friend would have committed suicide out of a sense of despair over the loss of a man:
I suppose you think that because a woman has committed suicide, there must be a man concerned in the matter. Let me assure you, once and for all, that Cynthia's regard for men, collectively or individually, was not sufficiently great to induce her to commit suicide on their account.
When the inquest on Miss Bartlett's death confirms Miss Carroll is right--it was not suicide but murder--Inspector Hanslet of the Yard, not all too keen on his own, is soon on his way to consult with that eccentric scientist and amateur detective, Dr. Lancelot Priestley. Through a brilliant series of on-site deductions Priestley determines that not only Bartlett but Vilmaes was murdered. The hunt is on!
The Hanging Woman is a good example of an early Dr. Priestley detective novel, with Priestley still quite active (he later becomes strictly an armchair detective) yet just as wonderfully acerbic as ever. The novel brims with material clues and fascinating ratiocination and should appeal to lovers of the art of deduction. "The most captious mystery addict may read it with pleasure," wrote reviewer William C. Weber of The Hanging Woman in the Saturday Review.
|The crime novels of John Street's |
friend John Dickson Carr tended to
have more of a touch of brimstone
Carr's good friend, John Street (the man behind John Rhode) with his detective novels was typically more interested, it must be allowed, in analytical investigation than Gothic shudders.
Yet despite lacking brimstone atmosphere, The Hanging Woman is a fine problem-focused Golden Age English detective novel that leaves the reader with interesting matters about to which speculate after finishing the book. In some ways it is reminiscent of an earlier, excellent Dr. Priestley novel, The Davidson Case (1929).
Unfortunately, pending John Street's heirs and literary agency allowing his books to be reprinted (or someone in Canada or Australia reprinting them next year when the copyrights lapse in those countries), you will have to willing to pay $60-$300 to get a copy of The Hanging Woman. It was published in both the United States and England and reprinted in hardcover in both countries in the 1930s, but still is quite rare today.
A query: how many other death by hanging mysteries can you recollect?
Offhand I am thinking of Henry Wade's The Hanging Captain (1932), which came fast on the heels of The Hanging Woman, Nicholas Blake's The Case of the Abominable Snowman (1941), which followed by a decade, and, forty-one years later, P. D. James' An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (1972). But there must be plenty others, I would think.