Through sheer luck I managed to come across a copy of Wilson's first attempt at a supernatural detective novel, an extremely scarce book to come by no matter where you live. Bury That Poker (1957) is not only her debut as a mystery novelist it is one of the rare examples of a detective novel that incorporates genuine supernatural content rather than a rationalized explanation of the ghost activity and hauntings. Quite aptly Wilson subtitles her book "A Detective Story in a Haunted House" and from the very first paragraph she sets up an ominous atmosphere:
It hung by the living-room fireplace, an ordinary domestic iron poker. Well, not ordinary, perhaps; its age alone lifted it out of the commonplace. [...] It's chief claim to distinction was the handle, which the maker--a grim Puritan craftsman with analogies of hell-fire on his mind--had hammered into the likeness of a grinning Satanic face.How can you stop reading, right? A diabolic fireplace poker with a handle carved to resemble the face of Satan? Give me more, I say.
We then learn of the history of the poker and the horrible fate that befell the Venner family. A cursed object, the poker was used as a weapon in three murders, one of which was dubbed the "Cain and Abel" murder because the victim was named Abel and the killer was his brother. The poker continuess to hold power over anyone who comes in contact with it it. An old woman dying in prison summons inspector John Crawford in order to make a deathbed confession and mumbles something to him about a poker. A painter named Paul who claims to have "psychometric ability" has flashbacks to the 17th century when he handles the poker. Knowing all this about the poker the title begins to make a lot of sense. No one should have that horrible thing around their house.
Wilson manages to incorporate her usual crime in the past to complicate matters, all sorts of family secrets are dredged up, and a young girl who is triggering poltergeist activity figures in the intriguing plot. The detective aspects are very well done with some nicely imagined fair play clueing like the alarm clock in the attic business. Still as a first book it is not without some minor faults the most telling is her indecision about which of her policemen characters (Crawford and Lovick) she wants to be her leading man.
She wavers between the two as primary sleuths - Crawford acting as the Fox Mulder half of this duo being more willing to accept paranormal activity than the skeptical Lovick who can't be bothered with ghosts and poltergeist and cursed objects. Oddly, though Crawford is Lovick's equal he is treated almost like the brilliant amateur whose theories are dismissed if not entirely ignored. The strengths of the story lie in the intensity of Wilson's treatment of the supernatural sequences which are genuine and not fraudulent. The denouement of Bury That Poker is rather spinetingling. This is one book I'd like to see turned into a movie.
It was the name that did it. When you're looking for a quiet cottage to retire to, and you find one for sale on an island called Todd's island, and your own name happens -- quite fortuitously -- to be Todd, too, why then you can be excused for looking on it as the finger of Fate.
Rose and her sister Charlotte end up buying Todd House where fifty years ago Mary Todd ran away and was never seen again. The strange thing is that Mary disappeared in July. Why then is Rose having visions of a rainy Friday in October? Is Rose having delusional hallucinations? Can she really see into the past? Or is she having visions of events yet to come?
A few weeks after moving into their new home their neighbor and Mary's sister, Louise, is found stabbed to death in a glade. Lovick and Crawford are on the case again and almost immediately they turn up a puzzling piece of information: there is no official record of Rose Todd being a sister of Charlotte. As the investigation continues there are a number of accidental deaths and the uncovering of more secrets in the past, a favorite Wilson plot device. The key to understanding the motive for all the killings is hidden among all those secrets. Crawford and Lovick ferret out the truth with a little help from Rose and her psychic skills.
The characters in It Rained that Friday are just as well drawn and individual as those in Bury that Poker. Wilson tends to be fond of populating her books with eccentric spinsters though Jem Roker, the troubled groundskeeper of Todd House, is one of her better fully dimensional male characters. The Norfolk settings in both novels are always a highlight with all the sights, scents and sounds that make for an immersive reading experience. Like P. M. Hubbard, whose books feature settings so alive they become integral characters, Wilson has a similar talent in evoking places that are as vital and breathing as any human.
G. M. Wilson's Mystery & Detective Novels
(Books with known supernatural or occult content are marked with *. Books reviewed on this blog have hyperlinks.)
*Bury That Poker (1957)
*I Was Murdered (1957)
*Thirteen Stannergate (1958)
*Shadows on the Landing (1959)
*It Rained That Friday (1960)
Three Fingered Death (1961)
Roberta Died (1962)
*Nightmare Cottage (1963)
*Murder on Monday (1963)
Shot at Dawn (1964)
The Devil's Skull (1965)
*The Headless Man (1967)
Cake for Caroline (1967)
Do Not Sleep (1968)
Death Is Buttercups (1969)
*A Deal Of Death Caps (1970)
The Bus Ran Late (1971)
She Kept on Dying (1972)
Gipsies Don't Have Them (1974)
She Sees Things (1975)
*Death on a Broomstick (1977)