By Henry Wade
First published: UK, Constable, 1938
Two men in the great convict prison of Hadstone are approaching the end of their five-year sentences for burglary and assault. One, James Carson, is a well-educated man of brutal character; the other, Toddy Shaw, a cheerful cockney who, though hot-tempered, had regarded burglary as a sport. “Trouble” arises in the prison and both Shaw and Carson are involved in it, with varying effect upon their fortunes. In due course both men are released, but the “trouble” is not at an end; it carries death and disaster into other lives than theirs.
This is a crime story told largely from the point of view of the criminal, but there is detection in it also, and we meet again a police character whom Henry Wade’s public have recently had cause to welcome.
Catalogue of Crime calls it “A dull tale of vengeance by an ex-convict—the only interesting bits being interviews with wardens”. It’s readable, but hardly enthralling.
The first half is one of Wade’s most sympathetic pieces of characterisation. The depiction of mass hysteria in a prison (disturbed chapel service and an officer beating up a convict); Toddy Shaw, an almost Dickensian cockney sparrow; his release from prison, the scene where he looks out through the train window and reflects on how much life has changed during his five year prison term, his reunion with his wife, her illness, his desperation, and the return of the menacing Carson (in the line between Mason’s Havoc and Allingham’s Tiger in the Smoke)—all are excellent.
There’s no mystery about who the killer is. The interest lies in the race against time to save an innocent man from the gallows, the construction of the police case against Toddy, and the efforts of DC Bragg and amateurs to clear Toddy and prove Carson’s guilt (same approach as Crofts’s The Cask and the Coles’ The Brooklyn Murders). Although there are no great shocks, this is competently done.
- Not quite inverted—not seen from murderer’s perspective, but from intended scapegoat’s—we know Carson must be guilty.
- Narrow focus on two suspects; no mystery—instead, how to prove Toddy’s innocence and Carson’s guilt.
- Bragg finds himself involved with murderer’s mistress—Wade’s policemen are emotionally vulnerable in a way Crofts aren’t—c.f. Bury Him Darkly, which should have been more about Poole’s friendship with the murderer—classical dilemma between duty and affection.
· Wade’s language notably realistic: “effin”, “bastard’
Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Percy Ashley, 29th October 1938):
In Released for Death, Mr. Wade, another author of justifiably big reputation [like Rupert Penny], is concerned mainly with character. Two convicts are released from prison, one a red-headed cockney who has got into trouble rather through misfortune and love of excitement than viciousness, the other a hardened, brutal man. An ex-warder, against whom some of the convicts had a grudge, is afterwards found murdered when carrying out his duties as a bank guard. All the evidence points to the red-head, but it was manufactured by the other man, who has victimised him. The attraction of the story is the skill with which Mr. Wade tells how the innocent man, at first determined to go straight, after prison, is gradually forced by ill luck into temptation. The actual vindication of his innocence is less satisfactory. The police and the solicitor for the defence are made to co-operate in a rather unnatural way and the end is a little disappointing after an excellent beginning.
Manchester Guardian (E.R. Punshon, 22nd November 1938):
Nor does Mr. Henry Wade ever allow the puzzle or the mystery element in his books to overshadow his interest in human nature, and in the gallery of portraits he has drawn there is none more effective than that of the red-headed, cheerful, hot-tempered, little ex-convict Toddy Shaw. Released for Death falls into three parts. First, a vivid, interesting, and, one imagines, exact description of life in a convict prison where general discontent is turning to open mutiny. Toddy, largely by accident, saves the situation and is released. Nor is it easy to read unmoved the description of the subsequent meeting with his justly offended yet forgiving wife. There follows an equally sympathetic account of Toddy’s attempts to reinstate himself as an honest member of society. Thirdly, comes the detective interest when Toddy finds himself unhappily involved in a murder mystery, solved at last by the patient work of Detective Bragg, already known to Mr. Wade’s readers.
Observer (Torquemada, 1st January 1939):
To pass from the atmosphere of Only Mugs Work [by Walter Greenwood] to that of Henry Wade’s Released for Death is to revert, as far as sentiment and ethical value are concerned, in an admirable but discarded world. Indeed, there always seems to me a slightly humourless, but distinctly pleasing, rectitude about this author’s worst, or rather best, crimes which set them apart from the crimes of other people. Released for Death is the story of two convicts, the cheerful and comparatively blameless Toddy Shaw, and Carson, who is rotten all through. The latter engineers a mutiny in Hadstone convict prison, but is unsuccessful in his attempt to put the blame on the former. Carson, on his release, murders a warder, and frames Toddy for the crime. Toddy, with old-world courtesy, refuses to betray the “pal” who has betrayed him, and the second half of a pleasant book is occupied by the persevering attempts of the Chaplain of Hadstone and of Detective Constable Bragg to break Carson’s alibi. Bragg is the same painstaking and decent fellow whose episodic rise to recognition we read of in Here Comes the Copper.