Dead Man’s Effects (H.C. Bailey)

  • By H.C. Bailey
  • First published: UK: Macdonald, 1945; USA: Doubleday, 1944, as The Cat’s Whisker

My review

Rating: 3 out of 5.
Bailey - Dead Man's Effects.jpg

A better than average treatment of Fifth Columnists in wartime Britain.  Although there are plenty of murders, the reader will have a hard time working out who is responsible for the Fifth Columnist activity and for the murders committed in Raddonshire.  In the second half, the scene shifts to London, where more murders are committed.  The solution is satisfying, the villains inevitable, and the staccato style does not detract from the vividness of the fast-paced whole.

Blurb (US)

Called into a Sunday conference with Lomas at Scotland Yard, Reggie Fortune was given the bare facts quickly.

‘Help!’ Reggie said, and proceeded to review the case in memo fashion: Man’s corpse burnt unrecognisable in haystack fire of unknown origin, same night as girl was drowned near by, unknown whether accident, suicide, or murder.  The one definite fact is, both died.  How and why they died contemporaneous with German bombing adjacent to fire and stream, wholly indefinite, chances innumerable.

When Reggie got on the scene he found the situation even more complicated by the presence of British, Canadian, and American troops between whom bad feeling was running high.  Reggie had a hunch that the deaths, the bombing, and the bad feeling were closely linked.  It took a while and needed alert brainwork to piece the many little clues together, but Reggie came through and cornered a mastermind who had an equal flair for mass killings and individual murders.

H.C. Bailey is a master of the cleverly plotted, faultproof story, and his well-known creation, Mr. Fortune, is an intellectual sleuth of the old school.  Faced with the unusual but very real problem of psychological sabotage among troops, Reggie produces some timely and important truths about the international situation as a whole.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 8th April 1945): Dead Man’s Effects, by H.C. Bailey, is a fair average Mr. Fortune investigation starting from two country corpses, one charred and one drowned, and proceeding to revolve round the household of a Midlands millionaire.  A smooth first half, but a bit diffuse towards the finish.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 28th April 1945): In his masterly manner Mr. H.C. Bailey makes the scene of the crime as blank as possible before Reginald Fortune arrives in Dead Man’s Effects.  While it suggests favourable bias to allow him to discover the false teeth which have been overlooked by earlier searches, what follows is characteristically Fortune.  The corpse, unrecognisable under the burned rick, has to be traced at a time when many people have vanished in an air raid and the “effects” do not belong to it.  The hunting is good.

Kirkus (1st October 1944, 90w): Fair—but diffuse in style and execution.

New Yorker (11th November 1944, 90w): Fortune naturally comes up with the solution, which he presents in his curious and elliptical style, by now almost entirely devoid of pronouns.  An intricate story, expertly worked out but overburdened with recapitulations.

Sat R of Lit (18th November 1944, 40w): Mr. Fortune and Lomas of C.I.D. rib each other pleasantly and work together successfully in slightly over-stuffed tale.  Good Fortune.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 26th November 1944, 80w): The story is rambling and incoherent, and it exhibits Reggie Fortune at his cryptic worst.

New Repub (27th November 1944, 90w): Reggie, in fine form, proves equal to the job in an ingenious and well worked-out puzzle.