Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IN BRIEF: The Bolt - P.R. Shore

Thoroughly intriguing novel by a minor mystery writer who wrote only two books in the genre. This one from 1927 is a classic English village mystery with a haunted green, a resident witch who curses the victim, a spinster narrator, a curate who acts as amateur sleuth with the spinster, and a shrewd policeman. We have two chapters in which the curate and spinster examine train tables to determine if one of the suspects is lying about his alibi. We have much hanky-panky with servants. We have the surfacing of a sinister blackmailing foreigner who reveals the victim’s deep, dark secret. All in all, crammed full of Golden Age plot motifs nearly all of which become tired by the 1930s in their overuse. Reminiscent of the best of early Gladys Mitchell this book also pre-dates Christie’s St. Mary Mead novels with busybody sleuth Jane Marple. It’s witty, a little bit nasty, and extremely engaging from beginning to end.

The story is of the murder of the not well-liked Mrs. Harrington, a “woman with a past,” who acted the part of the village matriarch and incurred the wrath of nearly everyone she knew – not the least of whom is her own step-daughter. Just as the annual village fete comes to a close Mrs. Harrington’s body is found nearby a sacrificial altar on the village green thought to be haunted by ancient Saxon ghosts. Some stolen air rifles from one of the fair’s game stalls, an “elf-bolt” as weapon (apparently some form of stone artifact), some stolen documents from a secret safe are a few of the unusual clues that will lead to the culprit. Marion Leslie, the village spinster, teams up with the curate Roger Cartwright to help the wily Inspector Grier discover the identity of a very clever murderer.

I read the book in 2007 or so and this "review" of mine is culled from my reading log notes. I nearly didn't post it here. In looking for images of the rare dust jacket I came upon Curt Evans' more thorough review (with similar insights as mine) at Mystery*File. Interestingly, his review prompted three people to go digging through birth records to discover the true identity of the author P.R. Shore - a pseudonym for a woman writer. If you like, you can continue your reading about The Bolt and P.R. Shore here and here.

One last aside:  I attempted to get this book reissued by bringing it to the attention of Tom Schantz of Rue Morgue Press.  He courteously replied that the book sounded interesting and that he had ordered a copy from an online seller.  But to date no word whether he plans to include it in the Rue Morgue catalog. Such a  shame if he passes on it. Based on the comments and discussion after Curt's review I am certainly not alone in noticing that The Bolt is definitely one of the best of the 1920s detective novels.


  1. A spinster, a curate, a village green? I'm there. The elf-bolt (archaic weapon) is icing on the cake, but I'll probably skip the train tables section. I love Dorothy Sayers but I cannot bring myself to ever read "The Five Red Herrings" again, due to the prevalence of bloody train tables.

  2. Nice review--I'm not at all sure mine was more thorough!

    This would seem like a natural for Rue Morgue, but they seem to be shying away from little known writers now. That's what they told me about Anita Blackmon, anyway!