Thursday, July 18, 2013

IN BRIEF: The Death Pool - Vernon Loder

US 1st edition (William Morrow & Co., 1931)
Mystery writer Ned Hope is excited to have purchased Fen Court for the unheard of sum of £750 when at face value the property is worth several times more. Imagine his surprise when in making a tour of the grounds he comes across three corpses in the ornamental pond. His bargain basement purchase is sure to hit the sub-basement level in property values. Not to mention inviting visits from morbid scene of the crime tourists. What’s a mystery writer to do but solve the mystery of the three bodies.

Hope is “hired” by Bell, his reporter friend, to do a series of articles on the mysterious drowning deaths. Bell tells Ned that his assignment is to be a sort of experiment in feature writing. Ned, primarily a fiction writer, will report on the facts of the crime and as those facts are presented he will work out his own solution. Ned is joined in his combination investigative reporting and amateur detective work by his fiancée Nancy Johnson.

The victims of The Death Pool (1930) are Mr. Habershon, his ward Maysie Rowe and her lover Ivor Rainy. The two young people were thought to have eloped and left the area. In uncovering the multiple layers of a very strange relationship between the three victims Ned and Nancy begin to think that Mr. Habershon killed the other two and then did either did himself in or through negligence accidentally drowned. Most impressive is how Loder manages to invent the different combinations of victims and killer and how each died. Accidents made to look like murder and murders made to appear suicide are only two of the multiple solutions the duo dream up. Amazingly, the final reveal is even more complicated than Ned or Nancy could have imagined.

Inspector Brews makes his debut here doing his best to appear low-key and officious. “As a matter of routine--” is his favorite phrase and becomes something of a running gag throughout the novel. He often frustrates Ned who, after delivering what he thinks is a scoop on the case, learns that Brews knew of it already. As in other Vernon Loder mysteries Ned as amateur detective takes center stage, does most of the legwork and theorizing while Brews, the official detective, retreats into the background then delivers up the correct solution in the final chapters.

UK edition is known as The Essex Murders
Loder’s skill in creating quirky supporting characters is exemplified in the person of Cornelius Hatch. An avid ornithologist Hatch provides for some great scenes and a very different sort of local color. He wants to publish a book of spectacular photographs of birds and their nesting behaviors. The photographs will play a large part in the plot and will add to the mystery when Brews begins to suspect that Hatch is an impostor.

The unusual clues include a discussion of Brazilian coffee, the discovery of a thermos with no fingerprints, a car wiped clean of fingerprints that should show signs of one of the victims having driven it, and a mysterious light seen in the window of a cottage on the grounds of Fen Court. Loder does his best to lay out all the evidence to the reader, but in the denouement presents one crucial bit of information completely out of left field. It is something Brews digs up on his own but the reader is never made aware of until a few pages from the end. Occasionally, Loder cheats and it’s the only flaw that keeps him from being one of the top tier of detective novelists from this era.


  1. Another fascinating review. What kills me is that you pique my interest in a book like this, and then I go look for a copy on Abebooks and find that the cheapest one is a rebound jacketless copy for $47 plus shipping from England. And the chance of this showing up as an e-book anytime soon is nil. Oh well, another one for the "to be read" list.

    1. I found two cheap copies of the US edition at a different bookselling site. Tried to email you the info but I stupidly forgot to save your email address on my laptop back when we had that exchange about the DVD of WHILE THE PATIENT SLEPT. Click on the Email link in my Blogger profile and I'll send you the info.

  2. John, this one sounds delightful. "Imagine his surprise when in making a tour of the grounds he comes across three corpses in the ornamental pond." Imagine his surprise, indeed--not one, but three corpses! Definitely one for the TBF list.

  3. You might bring him back into fashion! Your review of "The Mystery at Stowe" encouraged me to buy my first Loder title, and now this review has piqued my interest further.

  4. I have this one and started a while back and never finished, just one of those things. Great jacket on the American edition, I see.