The Cat and the Corpse (R.A.J. Walling)

  • By R.A.J. Walling
  • First published: US: Morrow, 1935, as The Corpse in the Green Pyjamas; UK: Hodder & Stoughton, July 1935

I wouldn’t call this an utter catastrophe, but it left me catatonic. It has the right ingredients for a cat’s cradle: a castle inhabited by a feudal family who are a law unto themselves, secret passages, and a vanishing and re-appearing corpse. But the book is dull. True, Walling has a better feel for language than most of the Humdrums; his writing is quietly exuberant; and his model seems to be Dickens – satire of the aristocracy, grumpy but good-hearted sailors (shades of Captain Cuttle), and subjectless sentence. But the pace is slow, the telling glacial. The detection and questioning is repetitious – not enough new information, not enough action. And the murder turns out to be manslaughter.


1935 Hodder & Stoughton

Mr. Walling has written a real detective work here, and not a ‘thriller’. A young ne’er-do-well is murdered at Wolborough Castle, where he has gone to steal the owner’s loose money.

Through the scratching of a cat his dead body was discovered behind a panel. Who, among the people staying at the Castle, was guilty of the murder? How was the murder committed?

In his usual masterly manner the ingenious Mr. Walling unravels the mystery to the entire satisfaction of his readers.


Three completely unrelated events, occurring on the same day, but in different places, create the puzzle for Tolefree’s newest adventure:

  1. Lord and Lady Meriden decide to sell their famous Marillo triptych;
  2. Sir Isaac Stratton cashes a check for three thousand pounds;
  3. A tabby cat finds a dark corner for the business on which she is bent.

Now the Meridens knew nothing of Sir Isaac’s check; Sir Isaac was unaware of the cat’s existence; and the cat was indifferent to everyone and everything.

Because of these three events, Tolefree found himself, one night, peering down at a corpse in green pyjamas. How the corpse had got there was one problem; how and whereto it vanished forty minutes after he found it was another. “Hallucinations!” sneered the Honourable John Meriden, but Tolefree thought not, and set out to prove that he was right.

The Corpse in the Green Pyjamas is one of Mr. Walling’s best: a good puzzle to whet your curiosity, with vivid characters to sustain your interest, and the same air-tight and satisfying solution that Mr. Walling’s fans have come to expect of him.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (25th July 1935): This is the fifth novel by Mr. Walling in which that eccentric private inquiry agent Tolefree appears.  It is not clear for some time exactly what he is supposed to be up to in Lord Meriden’s feudal castle on the South Coast.  In fact it is never perfectly clear what any of the inhabitants and guests of this mysterious fortress are playing at.  The noble lord and his brother are determined to hush up a nocturnal incident involving a wealthy banker (after the Meriden Triptych), an operatic tenor, a disreputable young cad, and a cat with five kittens.  The crux of the case is whether the disreputable young cad was dead when Tolefree saw his body in the feudal cat’s cradle at an early hour of the morning.  Tolefree’s hypothesis is extremely elaborate if somewhat laboured.  Indeed the weakness of the story lies in Mr. Walling’s determination to tell it in the most confusing and baffling way.  Our sympathies are with John Meriden who, at one point, remarks: “A pity there’s so much darkness in the tale.”

Observer (Torquemada, 28th July 1935): “The ingenious Mr. R.A.J. Walling,” as his publishers call him, narrowly escapes becoming the over-ingenious Mr. R.A.J. Walling in The Cat and the Corpse.  He only does so, in fact, by writing up his intrinsicated web with a clarity for which he has not been previously noticeable.  After a cinematographic beginning, very well done, he simply lets himself go at the Castle, with its appearing and disappearing corpse, and we become involved in really exceptional complications.  We emerge to find motive, and therefore justification, distinctly weak.  It is rather as if we had been challenged to perambulate a maze with the promise of a substantial prize, only to find in the centre a 3d. chit on Woolworth’s.  Yet the threading of the labyrinth was, in itself, worth our while.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 21st September 1935): The “ingenious” Mr. Walling is showing a Tolefree model against a feudal background.  The upper-class tranquillity of Wolborough Castle is disturbed by the abrupt disappearance of a week-end visitor during the middle of the night.  Philip Tolefree is sent for to find the body, and does so only to lose it again before he can hand it to the police.  The plot holds the road but never gathers speed; and the solution is of that fortuitous kind that exonerates the hangman.

Edward Shanks in John o’ London’s Weekly: Mr R.A.J. Walling has already eleven detective stories to his name, and one might have supposed that he had shown by now all he could do. But in The Cat and the Corpse he appears to me to make a notable advance. Perhaps I cannot praise Mr. Walling’s handling of it better than by saying that few detective stories leave, when one has laid them down, so many characters distinct in the memory.

One thought on “The Cat and the Corpse (R.A.J. Walling)

  1. I picked up a Walling novel recently — not this one, perhaps thankfully, but A Corpse Without a Clue (1944). My main motivation in doing so was that I didn’t remember seeing any Walling reviews anywhere in recent years, so I was hoping it might be a good one. Here’s hoping I fare a little better there when I get to it.


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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