A Most Immoral Murder (Harriette Ashbrook)

Philately will get you nowhere, it seems. Ashbrook’s fourth detective story involves skulduggery among stamp-collectors (a subgenre exploited by Ellery Queen in “The One-Penny Black” and The Chinese Orange Mystery).

Prentice Crossley is bayoneted; his collection is stolen (including the British Guiana one-cent magenta, the most valuable stamp in the world); and his grand-daughter ends up on Spike Tracy’s doorstep in the middle of a storm. Spike does what any respectable detective would do: learning the young woman is wanted by the police, he hides her, denies any knowledge of her, then covers up for the killer. Meanwhile, the murderer strikes again; each time, a priceless stamp from Crossley’s collection is found on the body…

A Most Immoral Murder is an enjoyable but minor entry in the Tracy series: fast-paced, but somehow less substantial than the previous two, and certainly less clever than Sigurd Sharon. The murderer is rather easy to spot. This is one of those stories where fbzrbar vf gur ivpgvz bs na nccnerag nggrzcgrq zheqre gung gurl fgntrq – a device so transparent it alerts the reader at once. The motive, however, is a moving anti-war statement; the crimes are an attempt at restitution, to repair the damage caused by a death on the Western Front.


1935 Coward McCann

Murder really shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Spike Tracy, who has figured in several homicidal high-jinks, is all for good, clean, bloody fun, so if you haven’t met him before, make his acquaintance now. He’s an insouciant young man with plenty of money, good looks and a sense of humor. The only blight on his life is his stodgy brother, R. Montgomery Tracy, the district attorney. His boon companion is Pug Beasley, a former bantam weight pug now in training to become a gentleman’s gentleman in the Wodehouse manner, and there’s a sister-in-law who goes in for committees and uplift. Oh yes, there’s a murder, too. Don’t get impatient. Two of ’em in fact. It all starts when a beautiful woman stumbles over Spike’s threshold one evening and collapses on his hearth. The next morning he reads that she’s wanted for murder. His good sense tells him he ought to turn her over to the police and brother Richard. But Spike Tracy is not a young man who ever let good sense lead him astray. And anyway, he’s sure brother Richard wouldn’t appreciate her. Richard’s that way. So, believing that the lovely woman who lies in his bedroom raving in delirium is guilty of murder, he sets out to make Richard and the police believe she isn’t. If you insist on international spy rings, and rubies taken from the eye of a Burma idol, or blood spilling all over the lot, better pass this one up. But if you’d like a really intelligent mystery story, with a lot of fun thrown in, A Most Immoral Murder is your meat.

4 thoughts on “A Most Immoral Murder (Harriette Ashbrook)

  1. The motive is not only original, but makes this (admittedly) minor novel standout because there are not that many classic mysteries in which the Great War looms so largely over the story. I found it fascinating and my sole complaint is that the publishers decided to ditch the original magazine title (He Killed a Thousand Men).

    And can we expect a review of Murder Makes Murder this week?


    1. I can’t think of any other American ones. Several from Britain – Henry Wade’s books, for instance, are all about the devastating effects of WWI. The war provides a motive in some of Philip MacDonald’s, too. Lord Peter is shell-shocked, and Bush and Christie’s first novels are about veterans adjusting to civilian life. But then the US entered the war three years late, so we can expect it to loom less large than in Britain.

      What about Dutch detective stories? I can’t remember much about it in the few early French detective stories I’ve read.


      1. We were fully mobilized, but neutral, during the First World War and therefore not really part of our history (one of the gaps between us and the Dutch-speaking Flemish). However, there’s a 1933 adventure/detective/spy novel, Spionage in het veldleger by A. Roothaert, which takes place at an army post on the border. It’s still on my wishlist.

        Roothaert also came up with one of the most Dutch way to commit an impossible murder in Onrust op Raubrakken. Not a very good detective story, but that trick made up for some of the plots shortcomings.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s