Crime, Supernatural and Adventure fiction. Obscure, Forgotten and Well Worth Reading.
Wednesday, June 26, 2019
NEGLECTED DETECTIVES - Simon Gale
Recently I learned of a trio of books featuring one of Gerald Verner's unusual and least known series detectives, Simon Gale. The marketing info led me to believe that these were inspired by the books of John Dickson Carr with promises of haunted houses, weird legends, tales of past crimes and a plot similar to those that Harry Stephen Keeler specialized in -- save the wrongly imprisoned person from execution. While the Carr analogy promised so much the only real thing that Simon Gale has in common with him is his detective's love of beer and the habit of crying out bizarre literary and historical inspired exclamations like "By the seven plagues of Egypt!" and "By the nine lives of Grimalkin!"
To date these are the best mysteries I've read by Verner. Much of their delight and success is due to Simon Gale, a larger than life character who will remind diehard detective fiction fans of other beer guzzling, blustery, and opinionated sleuths like Sir Henry Merrivale and Professor Stubbs. Gale is a professional portrait painter who comes to crime solving by accident. With only a handful of newsworthy successes Gale has gained a reputation as a criminologist and is more than happy to help when puzzling murders come his way. In his second adventure in crime Sorcerer's House (1956) he encounters a haunted house with an ominous curse. Whenever light appears in the window of Long Room at Threshold House someone will soon will die, usually violently.
Verner excels at creating a creepy Gothic atmosphere and draws from the conventions of Gothic literature in this detective novel. Tension is relieved by the frequent humorous bouts of beer drinking and the litany of Gale's odd exclamations recalling Dr. Fell's "Archons of Athens!" Unfortunately, once again his plot gets away from him and his attempts at misdirection misfire when he shows his hand too many times. A last minute effort to bamboozle the reader fails miserably and astute readers may find themselves recalling a moment in the early pages during the discovery of Meriton's body that stood out like a sore thumb. The resolution comes as an anticlimax and makes this second effort the weaker of the two.
Every one of the suspects has a secret involving a crime of some sort. Gale meets up with Mrs. Barrett, the Hallam housekeeper; Miss Ginch, a spiteful church lady; Mr Upcott, an effeminate collector of rare china; Major Ferguson, the typical ex-solider; Mrs. Langdon-Humpreys an archetype of the imperious harridan and her niece Vanessa; and Dr. Evershed, the usual local physician who turns up in these village mysteries. The story begins to resemble a sort of homage to And Then There Were None with each secret revealing each of the seven suspects to be more vile and odious than the preceding one interviewed. Among the crimes are murder, mass slaughter during war, negligence leading to a suicide, out of wedlock childbirth and other social "horrors" of the era. But who among these people felt it necessary to poison John Hallam, a sadistic man who collected books on torture and cruelty, and who also dabbled in blackmail? Gale aptly sums up this lurid case: "Murder's a queer thing. It's like suddenly turning on a bright light in an old, damp cellar. All kinds of nasty, crawling things go scuttling away to their holes to get out of the glare."
Noose for a Lady had an interesting previous incarnation and later life besides being a novel. According to Chris Verner, the author's son, it was first written for radio and later was adapted in a faithful movie version. The movie poster appears above as it was adapted for the DVD case. John Grant of the Noirish movie blog has reviewed the movie in his usual perspicacious and informative style. However, I don't suggest you read it until after you read the book or see the movie as he gives away several plot elements better left unsaid.
There is a third and final book (The Snark was a Boojum) which I have not purchased nor read. That last book in the Simon Gale trilogy was unfinished when Gerald Verner died in 1980 and his son has completed it. It was published for the first time by Ramble House a few years ago is is available for sale along with the two other books offered by Endeavor Books in both paperback and digital editions.
Simon Gale is one of the best of Verner's many series detectives. He's colorful, keen eyed and sharp witted, often providing riotously funny laugh-out-loud moments amid the eerie luridness that pervades his investigations. Despite Verner's flaws in plotting and his penchant for high melodrama and operatic displays of villainy in the final pages I highly recommend these two books for anyone unfamiliar with his work. They are most definitely the best of the Gerald Verner mysteries I've read as far as character, atmosphere and detective elements with Noose for A Lady ranking slightly higher than Sorcerer's House in terms of "bang for your buck" mystery quality.
"By the cloven hoofs of Pan!" What are you waiting for? Go buy a copy of one of these books.
Posted by J F Norris at 10:54 PM
Labels: First Books, Gerald Verner, haunted houses, impossible crime, John Dickson Carr, Neglected Detectives, R. T. Campbell
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As you said on my review of Verner's The Royal Flush Murders, this is an uncanny piece of timing!ReplyDelete
Anyway, Sorcerer's House struck me as a conscious, pulp-style homage to John Dickson Carr and particular of He Who Whispers (note that the tragic women in both books are named Fay), but without leaning on an impossible crime. The result is a mystery that stands closer to some of Carr's followers, like John Russell Fearn and Paul Halter, with certain aspects of the plot weirdly anticipating Halter's The Madman's Room. My full review of the book will be posted on my blog tomorrow. So stay tuned!
Noose for a Lady is going to be my next Verner. Thanks for the tip!
Oh yes! The Fay coincidence is very observant of you. I look forward to your Sorcerer's House blog post. Just when I thought I was truly psychic you burst my bubble. It seems every time I think I fully understand my fellow bloggers' leanings and preferences I am always undone by something unexpected.Delete
When I read Noose for a Lady a couple of years ago, I think I wrote in my Goodreads review that it reminded me of a minor Christie novel--maybe The Sittaford Mystery or something of that ilk. Looking back I'm not sure why I thought that? But I enjoyed it, and I actually did not mind the denouement.ReplyDelete
I guess I had been reading too many books in a row that ended with a talking villain who collapses into cackling laughter or commits suicide and all the rest of that operatic stuff. It just doesn't sit well with me considering the beginning of the book, but... Noose for a Lady was nevertheless wholly entertaining and I enjoyed it more than They Live in Darkness which had supplanted the idea that Verner was worth pursuing if I chose to read his later works. Ages ago I read a trio of clunkers he wrote in the 1930s and swore off him -- for good I thought. Simon Gale is a fantastic, immensely likeable detective character who makes these books really come alive. I only wish there were more novels with him than these lonely three.Delete
I have just bought all 3 Simon Gale books ! all 3 are available in kindle.ReplyDelete
Enjoy! They're very entertaining and have lots to offer detective novel fans.Delete
I knew I was going to be interested when I saw the title of this post. How nice to find a new author and detective that I can find an affordable copy of. I will be purchasing Noose for a Lady this weekend.ReplyDelete
Hope you like it! Very reminiscent of Agatha. It should have great appeal to lots of readers.Delete