Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig (H.C. Bailey)

  • By H.C. Bailey
  • First published: UK: Gollancz, 1943; USA: Doubleday, 1943

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is one of Bailey’s weakest novels.  The plot, which involves Nazism and witchcraft, is silly, and the book suffers from a lack of direction: a straightforward detective story trails off into an average thriller. Typhus among refugees in Wales leads Mr. Fortune to uncover a Fifth Column plot; this was handled much more successfully in Dead Man’s Effects. Well before the halfway mark, Mr. Fortune discovers the identity of the chief quisling: not a character to whom the reader has been introduced; and, by the end of the book, it turns out that just about every character (apart from victims and police) is part of the conspiracy. The principal motive—not one to which the reader has much of a clue—is the kidnapping of a prominent British general. Witchcraft is also thrown into the mixture, certainly not up to the level of Gladys Mitchell or John Dickson Carr: the handling of witchcraft is laughable, especially the very camp sacrifice scenes at the end.

US blurb

When Reggie Fortune heard of the mysterious outbreak of typhus fever among a group of child évacués his scientific curiosity and his personal wrath were aroused.  Typhus doesn’t break out without due cause.  There was apparently no contact with the outside world in the little Welsh village where the children were living.  Q.E.D.: the illness had been brought about with malice aforethought and the aid of a research laboratory.  Mr. Fortune also insisted that a pig was involved.  His path crossed that of an American intelligence officer, and together, one searching for the pig and the other keeping the open mind of a neutral, they brought about a smashing denouement.

Mr. Bailey has cleverly used the various aspects of Reggie’s comprehensive interests to forward his plot and to build a colourful, sometimes fantastic background in the desolate Welsh setting.  In Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig Reggie is at the top of his form.

Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 7th March 1943): Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig in Wales, where he goes to investigate mysterious typhus epidemic amongst children.  Nazis, of course, but the problem is to find their stooge.  Elaborately ingenious and plenty of suspense.  Patriots will be gratified to note that Mr. H.C. Bailey seems to have put his pocket Lucullus on spam for the duration.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 13th March 1943): Little refugees in a lonely house afford evidence of a plot which brings Reggie Fortune to Wales.  Even without a hidden menace lurking in the hills there is interest in his journey, for Mr. Bailey describes those sudden contrasts between gaunt formlessness and green Edens enchantingly.  As long as his detective doctor is quietly noting signs and portents and shrewdly reading peculiarities of character, the story weaves the familiar, the inimitable Fortune spell.  But this time the author is out for what we used to call (in bygone evenings at the Crystal Palace) a set-piece.  He raises great expectations and then—well, a rapid reader might well skip the paragraph and go on wondering when the fireworks will start.  If Mr. Bailey wishes to change his style from the meditative to the dramatic, he should first persuade some fiery news editor to tell him “how to make things happen”.

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 27th March 1943): The last three items on the list are included not on merit but as peculiarities…  [Gladys Mitchell‘s] The Worsted Viper exhibits Mrs. Bradley running riot over the Norfolk Broads in pursuit of black magic.  That’s all, but more than enough.  Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is also addicted to black magic, but throws in spies and quislings for good measure.  In the hectic confusion Reggie forgets even to find his pig.

Weekly Book Review (Will Cuppy, 4th April 1943, 250w): It’s a fast, exciting yarn with top-drawer detectivism and a slightly top-heavy secret, easily the pick of the week’s offerings.

NY Times (Isaac Anderson, 11th April 1943, 130w): Dialogue cryptic but amusing; sleuthing to match Reggie Fortune’s previous performances.

Springfield Republican (L.S.M., 11th April 1943, 240w): Mr. Fortune Finds a Pig is replete with Reggie’s usual clipped witticisms, and all goes well until the author botches up his plot with Druidism, witchcraft and sacrificial altars.  Less hocus-pocus and more clarity would have made a better mystery.

New Yorker (17th April 1943, 80w): Nice detecting, and cheerful, too.

Sat R of Lit (17th April 1943, 40w): First class yarn, brimming with action and admirable sleuthing.