The Murder at Crome House (G.D.H. and Margaret Cole)

By G.D.H. and Margaret Cole

First published: UK, Collins, 1927; US, Macmillan, 1927

A decent, complex, straightforward and competent detective story — solved not by Wilson, but instead by the academic James Flint (obviously Cole himself) and his friends. The plot involves photographs (and hocusing thereof), mysterious masked men, an unbreakable alibi relying on transport, and a rather Holmesian victimised woman. The writing is witty, and somewhat Chestertonian in style, but the plot recalls more Crofts and Christie (especially Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?). Gradual revelation of the murderer’s identity well-handled.

Blurb (UK)

What would you do if you, a University lecturer with no qualifications for detective work, were suddenly called upon to vindicate a friend’s name by discovering the author of a crime committed nearly six months before, and your only clue led nowhere?  This is the problem which confronted James Flint and his friends in the murder of Sir Harry Wye, for which his stepson had so nearly been hanged; and the story tells how, with no superhuman sleuth or vast scientific apparatus to assist them, but merely by patiently using their wits, the little group at last succeeded in clearing the unfortunate suspect and unmasking a peculiarly atrocious scoundrel.  The unravelling brings them up against many remarkable and entertaining characters, and into exciting situations in which one of them is nearly killed before the end is reached; but the signal fact about this story, unlike most detective yarns, is that it might have happened to any one.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Professor Alan Clutton-Brock, 8th September 1927):

Mr. and Mrs. Cole are among the most remarkable and efficient of English detective story writers, and they write in a peculiarly English way, their object being rather to conceal the fact that their story is a detective story than to set out the whole matter as a purely intellectual problem, in the manner of Poe.  The result of this is that there is room in their stories for extraneous and intellectually, but not aesthetically, irrelevant things; in some of their stories for excellent satire, and in this for the business of a pure novelist.  In The Murder at Crome House (Collins, 7s. 6d. net) a university lecturer of mild and simple habits is persuaded, in order that he may do a service to a friend, to discover who committed a crime which happened six months before the beginning of the story, the first attempt to do this being very discouraging.  The story is continued in this unromantic way; there are no sinister Napoleons of crime, and no unprecedented scientific inventions—in fact there is no melodrama of any kind, and none of the necessary but difficult rules of detective story writing are broken.  If the reader wishes to treat this as a purely intellectual detective story the complicated plot will demand the closest attention, but much greater pleasure can be gained by reading it as a novel with the additional excitement of a puzzle.  In fact, if this novel is to be treated as a purely intellectual problem it is necessary to re-read it.  No real student is averse to re-reading a detective story in order that he may see how everything worked out, but the detective story in the Poe manner does not usually demand, nor will everybody be willing to give, this exact attention, though in this case it is perhaps worth while.  Nevertheless, it is certainly easier to read this story as if it were mainly a novel, and this is the easier because it is both very well written and full of interesting characters.

Spectator (B.E.T., 9th April 1927, 50w):

Very well told indeed.

Nation and Ath (Marjorie Strachey, 16th April 1927, 110w):

Somehow the effect is not quite right.  We are never properly convinced that these things happened to an actual Mr. Flint, and as for Anstey, he is one of those adventurous, fool-hardy sailors whom one really doesn’t meet except in novels.  But that doesn’t matter to the story, which is quite a good one, especially at the end where there is an exciting climax.

NY Evening Post (L.G., 6th August 1927, 130w):

The story is rather long drawn-out, but the identity of the murderer is so well hidden and the detectives are so amusingly amateurish that it is more interesting than the average detective yarn.

Outlook (7th September 1927, 80w):

The authors fall short of success.