THE CHARACTERS: Dewar and Bone are a great team. Bone is the senior official and he enjoys razzing Dewar for being both very young (only 32) and Scottish. He constantly jibes Dewar about his hometown of Dumbartonshire often referring to his junior as "Dumbarton", always in a friendly joshing manner. He is respectful and impressed by Dewar's abstract thinking and his gifted detective's instinct. It is only because of Dewar that they literally uncover another murder while investigating the truth behind the serial murders. It's one of many clever layers to this intricate plot.
Dewar though the junior member of the team is clearly the lead detective of the novel. He is driven and dedicated to his job. A single man who eats, sleeps, and breathes police work he is well liked by all his colleagues. And it's largely because of the mutual admiration between Dewar and Bone that this detective novel which relies heavily on methodical police work never lags interest and never suffers from "procedural" monotony which is often the case with this subgenre. We never have to watch these men fill out paperwork, talk about the bureaucracy that stalls their work, or any of the other less glamorous aspects of police work. They are on the hunt, they mean business, and they most definitely get their man. In fact they get their man about three times in this wildly, fast-spinning and ever changing pursuit of a relentless killer hiding amongst many criminal types.
The plot shifts to a pursuit for their suspect, but a truly surprising event at about midway through the book causes the entire case to fall apart and Dewar and Bone must start from scratch. When that happens there is a very subtle element of fair play clueing is dropped allowing the reader to figure out the killer's motive for the seemingly unending mass murder. I am proud to say that it dawned on me literally two paragraphs before Inspector Dewar announces it. It's an invigorating moment whether the reader guesses before Dewar or not for it also comes as the recognition that this may in fact be the very first book ever to employ such a novelty plot element in a detective story. The characters talk about the motive with such alarming horror that it seems totally fresh within the context of the story even if it is now a tiresome cliche in the genre as a whole.
|Body Found Stabbed (1932) by John Cameron,|
another of Macdonell's pseudonyms
"Most eloquently put," said Bone, "and quite unanswerable."
The quietness and simplicity of it were terrifying. No one had seen a figure approaching the victims. No one has seen a figure hastening from the scene of the murders. ...each murder committed with ruthless efficiency and each retreat effected without fuss or hurry. "Like a cat in the night hunting a bird," thought Dewar.
|A. G. Macdonell, 1939|
(photo © Bassano, Ltd.)
EASY TO FIND? Luckily, yes! (From now on I will only be including this section when the answer is positive.) Many of Macdonell's novels have been reprinted by Fonthill Media, a British indie press known primarily for their line of military, aviation, and maritime non-fiction. Only two of the Neil Gordon detective novels were reprinted and have been released under Macdonell's real name -- The Silent Murders and The Shakespeare Murders. Currently all the Macdonell books are offered at 20% off the original retail price if you buy them from the Fonthill Media website. For anything else you'll have to resort to used bookstores, both online and the few remaining brick and mortar stores out there.