While they display the usual elements of a traditional detective story the Mrs. Pym books are at their core police procedurals. Morland was a true crime addict and journalist and knew how Scotland Yard really worked during his lifetime. The drudgery of paperwork, the backbiting among colleagues, the sergeant trying his best to prove his skills and shine in the eyes of his superior, and the utter bureaucracy of the life of policemen -- Morland captured it all. The Moon Murders is concerned with not only the investigation and apprehension of the criminal but also the inner workings and bureaucracy of police departments and most especially the relationships of police officers with their partners and superiors. The life of police behind the scenes is really what distinguishes a true police procedural from the usual whodunit and will become the hallmark of such later crime writers as John Creasey in his books about Commander Gideon and Inspector West representing the UK and Ed McBain and Jonathan Craig in the their treatments of urban American precinct life. Morland to me seems to have nailed the formula combining detection, police work and police relationships in his first book. It's not just an entertainment it is a real novel of character.
|Man from the Moon 's disguise recalls |
McCulley's ex-circus performer
In one of his more daring acts the masked criminal manages to escape her office unseen by a guard on duty foreshadowing Morland's later fascination with detective novels that feature impossible crime aspects. But Mrs Pym will have nothing to do with locked rooms and impossibilities. When anything seeming to be an impossible crime surfaces she quickly dismisses and proves within minutes how the "miracle" was accomplished. One thing a criminal should never do with Mrs. Pym is toy with her unshakable respect for logic and common sense.
Morland takes the Holmesian approach to crime detection to its extreme with Mrs. Pym who tries her best to get her men to see things as they really are. She walks into a room and within minutes can tell you whose been there and she teaches her police to do the same. In her partner Inspector Shott she glimpses the potential for an excellent detective, but their first few days together are like Beatrice and Benedict trading insults. One of the best examples of her amazing detective skills comes in her examination of the rooms at Ensor Mews where a reporter has benn kidnapped. Based on indentations in the carpet, an uneaten breakfast, and hand prints left in dust on a table top Mrs. Pym figures out not only precisely what happened in the room, but the height and personality of the kidnapper. Holmes could do no better, I think.
Her shift in character and motivation is marked by an ever increasing unorthodoxy, a flagrant violation of police protocol. She begins to resemble a brutal American cop not the usual genteel British police officer of a traditional detective novel. We know that she has spent some time in the U.S. (Omaha and Nevada are both mentioned) and she confesses that she had some respect for the tactics of the "third degree" favored by American police. She even stoops to bribing witnesses to speed up the investigation and get her closer to ferreting out the killers. Her superiors are shocked and lecture her. Even Shott is appalled by her sudden changes. He is concerned that Internal Affairs might get wind of Pym's "rule bending" and repeatedly warns her to curb her methods lest her actions lead to probation for both or the end of their careers.
A bibliography of the Mrs. Pym. detective novels can be found here along with an updated and complete list of all other crime fiction Nigel Morland wrote under a variety of pseudonyms. In the coming weeks I will feature an article on all of his Sgt. Johnny Lamb novels written under the name "John Donavan."
The Moon Murders counts as one more book in my Perilous Policeman category of my three part 2012 Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge sponsored by Bev at My Reader's Block. Links to the previously reviewed books are listed below.
Part I. Perilous Policemen
The Case of the Beautiful Body - Jonathan Craig
Murder by the Clock - Rufus King
The Death of Laurence Vining - Alan Thomas