Dead Man’s Quarry is that rarity of a forgotten novel that has rightly been rediscovered and reprinted for the ever growing audience of traditional detective novel readers who crave more and more of the old-fashioned whodunits of the past. First and foremost it does what a truly fine detective novel should do—it entertains the reader on all levels. Ianthe Jerrold’s best assets include her lively sense of humor and her refusal to pull cut-out characters from the dusty trunk of expected stereotypes and archetypes usually found in detective novels of this era.
Take for example the platoon of servants at both Rhyllan Hall and various other hotels and households that dot the surroundings. Usually relegated to comic background roles in standard mystery novels of the Golden Age Jerrold’s servants rather are essential to the plot. Each one steps into a spotlight briefly for an important moment.
|Ianthe Jerrold, 1936|
© National Portrait Gallery
The clues are abundant in Dead Man’s Quarry and they are pure Golden Age whimsy. The strange evidence includes the purchase of a hard candy called bulls’ eyes, an ambiguous note mysteriously signed with the initial C, a green bicycle pump, five pound note used to pay rent, and a revolver hidden in a rabbit hole.
John Christmas who also acted as the amateur sleuth in Jerrold’s first mystery novel The Studio Crime (1929), enlists the aid of Nora Browning, the atypically observant “Miss Watson” of the piece, and is also helped somewhat reluctantly by his traveling companion and friend Rampson Sydenham. Sydenham and Christmas are perfect foils for one another and serve to highlight Jerrold’s main conflict of the imaginative mind versus the scientific mind in their approach to solving a crime. Sydenham is the rational man lost in a sea of artists who quote poetry, draw analogies from novels and use figurative language in their daily speech. He is exasperated by the wild and dreamy notions spouting forth from his friend’s bothersome romantic mind. “Imagination is excellent thing, kept under control,” he lectures to Christmas. “It’ll arrive at the same conclusion as scientific reasoning, and get there quicker. But really, John…you’re blinding yourself to the obvious.” He does his best to point out to Christmas that he is discarding many clues that don’t fit his theories; a mortal sin to a scientific mind. It also happens to be bad detective work.
But John will not listen. He is convinced that Morris Price who has been found guilty of murder at the inquest is innocent no matter how much the evidence seems to reinforce that guilt. Christmas instead turns his attention to a mysterious woman who keeps reappearing throughout the investigation. A woman they have met once and who has eluded them since their chance encounter. Christmas believes her to be Price’s first wife who though estranged from her husband for years still has legal claim to property as his wife. It is quite possible that her talk of Rhyllan Hall needing a mistress was a hint to an ulterior motive.
Enough intriguing plot developments in this cleverly laid out murder tale are on vivid display and ought to intrigue even the toughest to please mystery novel enthusiasts. For once in a very long time here is an utterly forgotten writer's long out of print book that deserves having been rescued from obscurity.
Dead Man’s Quarry is available in a digital and printed book from Dean Street Press and can be purchased from the usual online bookselling sites.