Ten Star Clues (E.R. Punshon)

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A solid but conventional Punshon. One of the things that attracts me to Punshon’s work, as to that of Carr, Chesterton and Mitchell, is his baroque style – his gleeful convolution and darkly fantastical plots. Ten Star Clues, on the other hand, is a rehashed Victorian melodrama. It involves an impostor who claims to be, and is accepted as, Lord Wych’s heir and long-lost grandson, and the shooting of Lord Wych in his library. The use of such old saws feels much more like Michael Innes than Punshon’s usual work (but Innes would have used them better). The detection is hardly representative. Instead of Bobby’s usual slow investigations as he uncovers whatever monstrous truth or psychological abnormality has crept out of his author’s brain, Bobby and his Chief Constable sit in a study interviewing their nine suspects! The reader will guess the murderer very early on and work out most of the truth himself.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 11th January 1941): With his strong sense of character and vigorous scene-painting, Mr. Punshon also [like Ngaio Marsh with Surfeit of Lampreys] belongs to the modern school of detective fiction.  Castle Wych, where Lord Wych is shot dead one night, becomes as real as any stately home of England the reader may have been shown over.  The earl and his family, the vicar, the solicitor, a pretender and the police are people you might have met.  The best thing in the book is an interview between the chief constable and the vicar’s quiet little daughter, which begins with pats on the hand and ends in stifled oaths.  Unfortunately Mr. Punshon perpetuates one tiresome trick of the old school of detective fiction.  Bobby, the detective, is allowed almost a whole chapter for his memorandum, which contains a good deal of recapitulation with divisions and sub-divisions that dam the flow of what has been, up to now, an exciting hunt.  This may be tolerated in authors of the diagram brand who never attempt to kindle a warm living interest in the figures concerned in a crime; but in an author of genuine creative power it must be resented as a piece of backsliding.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 1st February 1941): Mr. Punshon has given readers so much pleasure in the past that one hesitates to treat some of his recent work on its merits alone.  Ten Star Clues is sound and conscientiously worked out but devoid of inspiration, and Bobby Owen’s deductive faculties never change gear.