Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Cut Direct - Alice Tilton (1938)

Leonidas Witherall is a dead ringer for William Shakespeare.  Much to his disgust people find it necessary to show off their knowledge of the Bard's works by quoting passages whenever they can.  Is it any wonder he allows them to call him Bill just to dispense with the "Guess That Allusion" game everyone seems to want to play with him.  With a character like this you can be sure that the stories are going to be a little less than serious.

Tilton was one of the earliest practitioners of the screwball mystery.  Even moreso than Craig Rice's booze laden romps Tilton's books are better deserving of the term screwball because she employs the standard elements of stage farce which her books resemble more than they do detective novels.  Impersonation, disguises, story telling (or rather elaborate lying), and car chases are teeming in the books featuring Witherall and the denizens of Dalton, Massachusetts.

In this second outing, Witherall is struck by vehicles no less than two times in the opening chapter coming to consciousness in a strange house only to find a corpse as his only companion.  The zany plot will have a crew of two servants, one secretary, a wise acre businessman, a socialite and her friends running between houses; donning servants' uniforms and shucking them just as quickly; popping into taxis; hiding in laundry baskets and under beds and in closets all in an effort to avoid the police and find the person responsible for putting the carving knife in the chest of Bennington Brett.  It's as fast paced as a Warner Brothers' cartoon and often just as funny.


  1. Nice to come across another "Alice Tilton" fan. Phoebe Atwood Taylor's Asey Mayo mysteries were a LITTLE screwball from time to time, but generally more serious than her Witherall adventures, which, as you say, certainly deserved the "screwball" label. Some of the Witheralls were also turned into radio shows, and I think few of them are floating around on the web and are available to hear.

    On a related note - let me offer a welcome to your blog. Please check out mine, , as I think we have fairly similar tastes!

  2. Les -

    Thanks for stopping by!

    I have a longer article about Tilton and Witherall that will begin my weekly column "Neglected Detectives." It'll appear sometime in February over at Mystery*File.

    I've been reading your reviews as part of the Vintage Mystery Challenge that we are both part of. And have known of your blog from links provided at the GA detective Fiction Yahoo group.