First published: UK, Eldon, 1933; US, McVeagh / Dial Press, 1933, as Pass the Body
With much murmuring and personal comment the crowd made way for her, until some blithe spirit at the back called out to her in fruity cockney, “Hi, miss, are you carrying away the body in that there box?”
This seemed to tickle the crowd, and somebody else shouted, “Show us the body, miss. Be a sport.”
Mrs. Salterton-Deeley prided herself on the good-humoured savoir-faire with which she managed the lower classes. Smiling, she snapped up the catch of the hat-box and opened the lid.
“There you are,” she said.
Inside was a severed human head; the head, in fact, of Mrs. Budge.
The English blurb promises “something very drastic in the way of thrillers”. There’s an “atmosphere of sinister foreboding”; “gruesome and horrifying” happenings; and “a whole host of yet more sinister events”.
Nonsense! It’s not a Poe/Carr tale of terror, slathered in Kensington gore; it’s an early version of the Innes/Crispin comedy: a detective story written by a Clever Young Man, full of comic characters and dismemberment played for laughs.
Quite simply, it’s fun.
The proprietress of a sinister hotel goes missing; she turns up strewn throughout the place. Rest in pieces, as they say.
Possible suspects include a religious maniac; a spinster who likes cats and séances; an Egyptian medical student; and a bacteriologist who adopted the Mozarabic rite.
Young journalist Charles Venables is assigned to cover the story – and solve it before the police. Whenever the Mercury writes about a crime in future, their public will think of them as the paper that was cleverer than the police.
Not that the police are dumb, by any means, though it does take Inspector Bray till Chapter 11 to learn what the reader has suspected from page 2.
Where the book suffers is its lack of a SURPRISE! ending. I was onto the murderer from the very start (Chapter II). Like a lot of British writers of the period, Sprigg wasn’t very good at concealing his criminal; Carr and Christie would have made the smart reader suspect X, while really pinning it on Y (probably the nurse).
Christie, incidentally, used the trick for concealing the body in a short story (Partners in Crime).
A very few pages of Crime in Kensington are sufficient to warn the reader that he is in for something very drastic in the way of thrillers. The atmosphere of sinister foreboding which has settled down on the private hotel at which, on the suggestion of Lady Viola Buxley, Charles Venables has taken up his abode, the queer collection of guests – the furtive young Egyptian, the psychic and hysterical spinster, the clergyman who holds a medical degree – no the no less mysterious proprietor and proprietress, all seem to presage some peculiar and calamitous disaster. And when something very soon does happen, something particularly gruesome and horrifying, it is only the prelude to a whole host of yet more sinister events.
For those who like their thrills in plenty, Crime in Kensington is just the thing.
Times Literary Supplement (16th March 1933, 120w)
Sat R (13th May 1933, 130w):
Out of the hidden peculiarities of the Garden Hotel, seemingly so humdrum, Mr. St. John Sprigg has woven an exceedingly cunning entertainment, in which the human passions are lightly intermingled with horror and with comedy, and yet not so artificially as to seem unnatural. [Pass the Body] is that comparatively rara avis—a detective story constructed on a basis of probability, in which the characters behave like real men and women.
NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 9th July 1933, 200w)
Sat R of Lit (15th July 1933, 30w):
Unusual tale told with zest, humour, original characters. Love interest present but not too conspicuous.
Books (16th July 1933, 320w):
Should this brief notice meet the eye of somebody craving a pleasing enough jumble of mystery fooleries, he may be assured of acquiring same in this volume… Mr. Sprigg isn’t so awfully experienced at writing fiction, but his tale is amusing, just the same.
Boston Transcript (9th August 1933, 200w):
The story is well written, cleverly developed and dull only now and then.