Greek Tragedy (G.D.H. and M. Cole)

By G.D.H. and M. Cole

First published: UK, Collins, 1939; US, Macmillan, 1940

The story-telling is highly entertaining and amusing, with some good characterisations (principally the schoolboys and girl, the victim and the Stricklands — Superintendent Wilson is his usual colourless self). The dénouement, on the other hand, is a major let-down: the criminal is not one of the main characters, and too few clues are provided to his identity—police procedure takes over somewhat futilely. The complications, while clichéd, are good—Communism vs. Nazism, childish revenge schemes, etc. somewhat marred by too many change of view-points. Shame.

Blurb (UK)

The Isles of Greece where burning Sappho loved and sang form an original and attractive setting for modern murder as devised by the Coles.  The tragedy happens while a party of young and old, politicians and non-politicians, distinguished men and freaks, are enjoying an educational holiday cruise around the islands.  Superintendent Wilson, what with coping with a foreign language and with the reticences of the Greek secret police, had one of his toughest jobs on hand before he found the solution.  The vivid characterisation of the members of the party, and the unusual character of the setting, no less than the crime itself, make this one of the most delightful and entertaining stories which the Coles have yet given us.

Blurb (US)

Henry Aveling was the leader of one of those holiday tours—a cruise combining pleasure with education—around the romantic islands of the Aegean.  The party included young and old, politicians and non-politicians, distinguished men and freaks.  In true steamer fashion they became bound to one another as no group ever is on land.

When the party reached Delphi they found their cruise-leader lying bound and stabbed in a grove of olives.  Who did it?

Why was he bound?

Why was he stabbed?

Why was he drugged?

Superintendent Wilson, what with a foreign language and the reticences of the Greek secret police, had one of his toughest jobs before he found the solution.  The Communist schoolboy, Roy Arkell, had hated Aveling; the ship’s doctor was harbouring books on poison in his surgery, professedly as basis for a mystery story; and there were footprints and the problem of Miss Morse’s bone-handled knife to be cleared up.

The vivid characterisation of the ship’s company and the unusual setting of political activities and archaeological interest, no less than the crime itself with its undertones of young love, make this one of the most delightful and entertaining stories which the Coles have ever given us.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 9th December 1939):


Mr. and Mrs. Cole have chosen an excellent setting for their latest mystery novel and found an admirable title.  The setting is a cruise around Greece, one of those cruises which combines high living with high thinking.  On board the cruising ship there are the usual university professors, professional lecturers, right-minded schoolmistresses and left-wing schoolboys, and a singular crank.  All goes smoothly upon the blue of the Aegean until somewhere towards the 150th page a popular lecturer and broadcaster is stabbed to death.  Soon after there enters upon the scene Mr. and Mrs. Cole’s favourite detective, Superintendent Wilson, followed shortly after by their King Charles’s Head, a suspected political crime.  For the popular lecturer and broadcaster, it appears, does not make a living but has to earn money on the side as a Nazi spy on the English and a Greek spy on the Greeks.  Superintendent Wilson, however, regards truth as justice and justice as truth, and for him neither the poisoning of anti-Semites nor the stabbing of Nazi spies is to be condoned.  A good tale, even if it tails off.

Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 9th February 1940):

With just that touch of malice which adds flavour to a description as does sauce to a dish, Mr. and Mrs. Cole tell in their new novel, Greek Tragedy, of one of those instructional cruises in Greek waters in which high-pressure culture and high-pressure sightseeing go hand in hand.  Many of the tourists are young, and the Coles seem always at their best when dealing with young people—how well, for instance, they depict in Margery the dreadful pangs of adolescence,—and when one of the cruise lecturers, an unsympathetic example even of his unsympathetic trade, is murdered, some of these young people, including the unlucky Margery, come under suspicion.  Superintendent Wilson, conveniently at hand on holiday, takes the case in hand and discovers the truth, but the interest of the book lies less with murder and mystery than with the amusing description of the tour and the tourists.

Books (Will Cuppy, 25th February 1940, 180w):

Complete with Greek trimmings, political sidelights, superior tourists, some quiet fun, and young love in moderation.  One of the Coles’ best.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 25th February 1940, 170w):

The story is fairly good but by no means up to the standard set by the Coles in some of their earlier mystery tales.

Sat R of Lit (2nd March 1940, 30w):

Culchaw and crime neatly mixed.  Reminiscent of Oliver Optic stories, which we bet few now alive remember.  Slow but sure.