All this unfolds in the first chapter of The Shop Window Murders (1930) one of Vernon Loder's more complicated and highly unusual detective novels. The events at the store's gala opening become stranger once the police arrive. They find that one of those storefront mannequins, a woman dressed in an outlandish costume adorned with a print that advertised the Mander Hopper, is not a mannequin at all. It's Effie Turnour, fiancée to the store's manager Robert Kephim. And she's dead too. She's been stabbed and placed in a chair in an unflattering pose right next to Mander's corpse. Someone obviously was not happy about Mander's plans to take over the retail world.
Enter Inspector Devenish, another of Loder's humane and intelligent policemen. He's willing to admit he's flawed, eager to listen to what everyone has to say no matter how hysterical or ranting they become. But woe to the fiendish murderer behind these bizarre crimes for Devenish is sharp enough to envision all angles and possibilities. During the investigation he uncovers department store rivalries, a conspiracy behind the actual identity of the inventor and desiger of the Mander Hopper and a hotbed of vice among the store's employees.
|The Hafner Gyroplane|
From a postcard series illustrated by Howard Leigh, March 1938
The cast of characters is a lively one. There's Mann, a night watchman who turns out to be another in a long line of mystery fiction characters similar to Sayer's Bunter and Allingham's Lugg. Mann was a batman to store executive Jameson Peden-Hythe during WWI and he still retains a loyalty to his older comrade who saved his life on the battlefield. Devenish suspects Mann assumed Peden-Hythe guilty of the murders and in order to protect his battleground Samaritan altered the crime scene and manufactured fake evidence. Or how about Webley the embittered and hostile mechanical engineer who claims that Mander stole the design from him? He's suspect number one in Devenish's book. Webley's belligerent attitude doesn't help clear his name any faster even though he seems to have an ironclad alibi. There is also Mrs. Hoe, a shrewd journalist always popping in at the most unexpected times. Devenish is impressed by her insight and intelligence. But Mrs. Hoe is hiding a secret of her own and has an interest in the murders other than great newspaper copy and eye-catching headlines. She is keeping tabs on a couple of the suspects for more personal reasons. Finally, there is a platoon of Loder's usual lower echelon policeman some of whom provide comic relief. One able-bodied sergeant in particular is responsible for uncovering the most unusual piece of evidence that eventually leads to the startling conclusion.
|US 1st edition (Morrow, 1930)|
If you are ever lucky enough to come across a copy of The Shop Window Murders (
UPDATE: Fantastic news! As of November 2018 The Shop Window Murders has been reprinted by HarperCollins as part of their continuing reissue of all of the books in the Detective Crime Club Classics imprint which originally appeared in the 1930s. The book is available in hardcover or digital editions. I hear that I'm mentioned in Nigel Moss' introduction. And this blog post is quoted on the DJ. Exciting!