This is the second of detective novels in a series of ten that feature Derleth's little known second series detective - Judge Ephraim Peck. Derleth is probably better known in the mystery world as the creator of Solar Pons - a Sherlock Holmes spin-off Derleth created when he wanted more Holmes tales but Doyle was not writing them. While Judge Peck shares some aspects of the Holmesian/Pontine method of detection related to physical evidence and the examination of clues he is more in the manner of the intuitive amateur sleuth popular during the late 1920s.
Here is an extremely Gothic detective novel set in a stifling mansion in northern Wisconsin. A family haunted by the deaths of two sons and several grandchildren at early ages and living under the dreaded shadow of hereditary insanity is at the mercy of a homicidal maniac who is killing members of the household. Several members of the family claim to have seen a creeping man both in the house and on the grounds. He appears to be crawling on his hands and knees each time he is seen. The unyielding matriarch seems to know more than she is willing to let on and continually withholds evidence, lies, and covers up the truth. Who is she protecting?
|August Derleth, circa 1950s|
Derleth was only 25 at the time of this book's publication. At this point in his career he was still very much a pulp writer. This book has quite a bit of Lovecraft, his writing mentor and friend, in it: the "shunned" house, the familial curse, the manner in which the insanity takes shape in those afflicted, the forbidden third floor and it's locked rooms. Derleth also tries to bury his clues, but he shows his hand clumsily in this book. The emphasis on dread and Gothicism led me to guess the identity of the murderer the instant the character was introduced.
I am in the process of reading most of the Judge Peck books and I am beginning to see themes and something of a formula to them all. A lengthier, in-depth article covering the rest of the titles in the series I own (four more of the ten) and Derleth's approach to and growth in writing detective novels will be posted here shortly.
UPDATE (Feb 15): I corrected the date of publication. I haven't a clue what possessed me to type 1929.