First published: UK, Gollancz, 1954
Punshon was born in 1872, therefore this book was published when its author was 82. Yet it is not the work of an old man. It is a tale full of energy, ingenuity and imagination, with flashes both of comedy and of horror, the work of a man half the age. The first chapter sets up several plot strands (grave-robbery, blackmail and the search for the last poems and letters of a poet) with all the skill of an expert. Murder occurs several chapters later, having established the amusingly egregious Pyle as painful and hard to get rid of without bloodshed, and Owen follows the strands to their ends to unravel a skein neatly woven and not too tangled. There is perhaps more talk than action, but Punshon’s characters are so unusual that Bobby Owen’s conversational method of detection is a pleasure. The moor, with its brooding and crushing weight of history, make a good backdrop for a tale of obsession and love turned to hate in which only the presence of London gangsters is intrusive. The solution can be anticipated from the halfway point, but murderer and motive are unusual enough to keep the reader interested (although wondering whether there are any sympathetic members of this discipline in Punshon’s work, or if, indeed, they are all murderers?).
Observer (Maurice Richardson, 7th March 1954):
Queerer goings on than ever in Bobby (now Deputy Commander) Owen’s neo-Trollopian manor of Mercia. Blackmail of a duke; grave-desecration; a very odd vicar and a still odder paranoid philosopher-sexton who contributes to the “Hibbert Journal”. Something happening all the time and you will finally find out what.