Genius in Murder (E.R. Punshon)

By E. R. Punshon

First published: UK, Benn, 1932; US, Houghton, 1933


My review

The best of the Carter and Bell stories so far—a proper detective story, free from the influence of Edgar Wallace.  The complex plot involves three murders (one delivered by car to Scotland Yard), theft, and financial swindle.  Every chapter throws suspicion on a different character—a genuine ‘maze’, like Death Comes to Cambers or Diabolic Candelabra.  In many ways, this feels like a Bobby Owen, with the labyrinthine plot and intense characterisation (Codrington).  Even though I suspected the murderer from the start (physical resemblance), most of the solution was a revelation to me—I certainly didn’t suspect the murderer’s accomplice.  Everything is neatly tied together at the end, without any undue coincidence, and an intriguing resolution.

  • Carter manipulates newspapers—police force seen as politicking
  • Sympathy for lowly policeman—recurs in Bobby Owen stories
  • Ryder going to complain to Home Office about police, before murdered and body delivered to the Yard

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (11th February 1932):

To some people, inexpert in getting rid of such things advantageously, a pearl necklace unlawfully acquired might prove a bit of a white elephant: other folk, again, are supposed at times to have been deterred from committing murder by the reputed difficulty in disposing of the body in such a way as to avoid attracting undesirable attention.  Mr. Punshon, however, gets over the objection to murder by leaving two of the corpses which are murdered in these entertaining pages, one in its own predestined coffin in its appropriate family vault; the other, quite tidily, in a limousine at the door of Scotland Yard.  This might have been expected to arouse the resentment of the Force, but those who figure in Mr. Punshon’s story, although bewildered by the crime, are much relieved by it as the murdered man was actually on his way to make complaints about their activities which might well have damaged their professional careers.  Yet those complaints would have been entirely unjustified, although, so cleverly is the story contrived, there could have been no defence against them.  The plot in which Inspector Carter, that deft promotion-hunter, is so careful to arrogate to himself all the credit for the good work of his subordinate, Sergeant Bell, and to leave the poor man to bear the burden of his own mistakes, leads the police from one perplexity into another.  Carter and Bell are old friends, and Mr. Punshon’s admirers will be pleased to find that the author seems to be about to reward the diffident astuteness of the belittled Bell with well-deserved promotion.

 

Punch:

Excellent, with plenty of ingenuity, a pleasant touch of humour and a Scotland Yard that looks to the outsider something like the real thing.

 

Sketch:

Mr. Punshon makes his story more interesting than some, for he gives his reader a chance to do some detective work for himself and solve the mystery ahead of the professionals.

 

The Bookman (March 1933):

A Scotland Yarder wherein Sergeant Bell outsmarts his superiors.  There are about four corpses, which is all to the good.  Impersonation is the chief device, but it’s a little thin when you know that just a little poke in the murderer’s ribs would have ended the story on page 30.