The White Crow (Philip MacDonald)

By Philip MacDonald

First published: UK, Collins, 1928; US, Dial Press, 1928

Blurb (UK)

MacDonald - The White Crow.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Mr. MacDonald scored a distinct success last Autumn with his remarkable war novel, Patrol.  In his new book he essays another detective story, as brilliant and ingenious as The Rasp, and all who read that story will look forward with interest to the new adventures of Anthony Gethryn.  It is an argument with his friend Lucas—an assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard—which leads to Anthony’s connection with the Lines–Bower mystery.  He starts upon its unravelment in a purely academic spirit, but soon becomes—after the first of a series of surprising incidents—acutely aware that there is a personal touch about some one’s methods in regard to him.  This calls for—and gets—a corresponding increase which seems at first insoluble.  The Rasp succeeded by reason of its ingenuity, humour and literary quality.  The White Crow, which has all these in even greater measure, combined with the appeal of exciting action, will add further to this writer’s increasing circle of readers.


Blurb (US)

MacDonald - The White Crow US
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

How was Sir Albert Lines-Bower murdered?

But was he murdered?

Scotland Yard is puzzled, and so is Colonel Anthony Gethryn, the hero of that clever yarn, “The Rasp.”  But together they solve the mystery.

The real thing in detective stories.

My review

Modern readers are likely to find this book dated and offensive.  The “white crow” is an albino negro, who (we’re told) can be identified by his stink in the dark.  A white woman is depraved because she is his lover, crossing racial boundaries.

MacDonald also makes a daring and damning critique of the British justice system, and advances the convincing and truly humane argument that capital punishment and imprisonment should be abolished, to end that terrible scourge on society, once and for all, and replaced with torture to death.

Lots of tortured, naked office-boys, and half-naked muscle-men.

The detective story itself is clever; Ellery Queen borrowed the idea for The Dutch Shoe Mystery, which may be an over-expanded short story, but at least isn’t racist and reactionary.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (6th December 1928):

With the usual introduction of the corpse of an unlovely millionaire in the first chapter, Mr. MacDonald has made a quite unusual story.  The White Crow is a night club against the respectability of which no complaint has ever been made by the police, but, late in the book it appears why it is so-called and there is no sort of respectability about the reason.  Anthony Gethryn, who is rapidly making good as one of the rising detectives of fiction, handles the case with useful help from a variety of official and unofficial assistants and has to work against time as there are political complications; and, while the other side does not hesitate to use violence against him and his, there is no episode in the plot which does violence to probability for the purpose of increasing the excitement.