Evidently Spittal married in 1900 and I suspect he also witnessed martial events in France during the First World War. The Tin Tree--Spittal's first novel, written presumably when he was in his fifties and published, like his other novels, under the pseudonym "James Quince"--has material enough about the Great War in it that one almost could classify the book as a war novel.
|The 1930 Hodder & Stoughton edition of|
The Tin Tree, with jacket art by Kastain,
the only edition of the novel to date
(and, yes, this toad does figure into things,
though only near the end of the story)
The protagonist is Roger "Secco" Burdockshed, a lieutenant in a British artillery company serving in France ("Secco" is derived from seccotine, because Burdockshed sticks like adhesive to a problem). One day he learns that a comrade of his, Gunner Arthur Rachelson, is not the man he thought he was; and, while convalescing from a serious wound in a hospital back in England, he resolves to get to the bottom of a notorious 1914 murder case in which Rachelson had prominently figured.
Also implicated in the affair are Secco's beloved childhood friend, Lady Margaret (Peggy) Clase, and a pretty nurse with the unlikely name of Embrance Twoze, two spirited female characters limned well by this male author.
I don't want to say too much about the plot, in case you get the chance to read this novel (it's a rare book and ought to be reprinted), but I quite enjoyed it. The war detail is interesting, giving the book an added depth, but presently we are immersed in the land of classic English village mystery, complete with country house and gentry.
There is imposture, insanity, a really gruesome murder (all this is related early on), a designing Spaniard and copious love interest, suggesting a Victorian sensation novel, yet the story is told, on the whole, with an easy charm and emotional restraint in comparison with old Victorian potboilers. There is most definitely a problem to be solved, though with all the goings-on the page-turning reader may not think to perform due diligence. Especially appealing is the double twist ending that the author contrives.
On the whole I preferred James Quince's third and final crime novel, Cassual Slaughters (1935), another village mystery, reviewed here by Martin Edwards this very same day; but that is one of my very favorite 1930s English mysteries, with fewer "thriller" elements than The Tin Tree. However, The Tin Tree too is heartily recommended to readers. As for publishers--take note, as they say.