There’s Death in the Churchyard (William Gore)

  • By William Gore
  • First published: UK: George G. Harrap, 1934

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Everard Ponderby Johnson, financier, collapses after the morning service; with his dying words, he accuses the squire, an explorer and scientist, a law unto himself, and who owned the witch-doctor poison that was used. The inquest accuses him; the police arrest him; the court convicts him. But did he do it? Or was it the artist Gunning, whose life the victim had ruined, driving him almost to the point of suicide? Or…?

This is delightful – a clever plot written with real wit, amusing dialogue, and a gallery of interesting characters: the Valkyrie-like Belle; the Vicar’s daughter Alicia, one of the most convincing children in detective stories, still learning that fiction isn’t real; a judge swayed by his horror of war and military men; a private investigator more at home with adultery and keyholes than murder.

The detection is “bungling”: the suspects solve the case themselves, through a mixture of inspiration and blind luck – Providence, one might say, given the church setting. The vicar has a brainwave and his parrot is murdered. You should be able to name the murderer shortly before he’s announced.


A Catalogue of Crime (Barzun & Taylor, 1989): A pleasant village tale with some flaws.  The reader is allowed to see the victim picking some sharp object out of his posterior after sitting down in church, but the police are told of this (via an observant choirboy) only on p. 187.  Meanwhile suspicion has fastened upon the local squire, an impoverished student of toxicology.  Only after his trial does the investigation really get down literally to brass tacks.  The modus operandi is unlikely to work.

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