By Henry Wade
First published: UK, Constable, 1957
Harborough is a large industrial and dockyard town on the north-east coast of England. An influential local paper starts a campaign against Fun-Fairs, of which there are two or three in the city, of varied respectability. The proprietor of the aggressive newspaper, Mr. Herbert Litmore – a prominent and highly reputed citizen – receives two anonymous threatening letters which he takes to his friend the Chief Constable. Hot on the heels of the second letter comes the news that Litmore’s son, a boy of twelve, has been kidnapped on his way home from a boxing-competition at the City Youth Club. A further letter to Litmore follows immediately demanding £10,000 to be paid according to instructions still to be given.
The Litmore Snatch is not a murder book. It is a complex and skilfully handled crime story, in which the crime is less important than the criminal and the criminal than his pursuers. The tale gives Henry Wade full scope for depiction of police psychology and methods, and for vivid presentation of life and manners in a big provincial town.
Barzun dissed Wade’s last book, but it’s better than Diplomat’s Folly or Gold Was Our Grave. It’s a straightforward police procedural about the kidnapping of a child (SPOILER recovered before the halfway point). Wade’s handling of a red herring (which I swallowed) SPOILER involving a policeman is very well paced. Although it’s mentioned on the back cover (which I forgot about), I suspected the character from Chapter 10, and confirmed it by rereading the early chapters. Wade expects the intelligent reader to suspect him, and makes him the main suspect in Chapter 14. There’s a neat volte face at the end. SPOILER Although I’d considered the culprit as a suspect, I still suspected the policeman.
Very satisfying following up of leads. The clue of the mould on the ceiling that resembles an elephant is exactly the sort of thing one focuses on in a fever.
Much more workmanlike and professional attitude to kidnapping of children than in Bailey—but, on the other hand, lacks his sense of (melo)drama and pathos.
SPOILER Policeman suspected of crime: Constable, Guard Thyself!
Manchester Guardian (Francis Iles, 5th April 1957):
To read this book side by side with The Litmore Snatch, by Henry Wade, is to realise the scope of what is loosely called “crime fiction”. Mr. Wade’s book is a quiet and almost factual account of the police procedure following the kidnapping of a small boy for ransom, and personally I found it fascinating. No one has a closer knowledge of police methods and psychology than Mr. Wade, and it is a proof of his skill as a novelist that the interest in no way flags with the recovery of the boy half-way through the book.