First published: UK, Collins, 1931; US, Doubleday, 1931
Colonel Anthony Gethryn is no longer merely an extremely engaging character, he has become a permanent figure in crime fiction. Since his first appearance in The Rasp he has gradually grown under Mr. MacDonald’s pen into the brilliantly outstanding personality he is to-day. Now in The Wraith we get a new aspect of the man. The story is that of Gethryn’s first case told by him in the first person. We see the début into detection of a brain that is later to grapple successfully with problems in crime that have baffled and thrilled thousands of MacDonald readers the world over. It was in 1920—two years after!—that Gethryn was living at the Good Intent at High Fen. He was the guest of the Manxes at Fridays—that strangely named old manor-house—on the evening when John Manx was found with a bullet hole between his eyes. And Gethryn had not gone from High Fen before he had unveiled a crime, a deal less brainless than that ghastly wound had suggested, and until, incidentally, he had taken a very long stride down the road that has brought him to the unique place in detective fiction he now holds.
It began with cats but ended with murder!
Mr. Alfred Höst was the most unusual character in the quiet little village of High Fen. The war had wrecked Mr. Höst’s body and possibly his mind. Mr. Höst limped; he was said to have a silver plate in his skull, and to protect this he always wore a black velvet skullcap; his left hand was deformed, and he was never seen without black cotton gloves. He lived entirely alone except for the collection of cats which were his only interest in life. And it was the discovery of the horribly mutilated body of one of Mr. Höst’s cats that began the whole frightful dance of death.
Gethryn’s first case, told to his wife Lucia and his friend Toller, a detective writer who acts as a Greek chorus, commenting on the action—a good example of MacDonald’s liking for unusual ways of telling a story. The situation—wealthy man shot in the grounds of his house—is rather stock, but the problem is very good. The murderers are known half-way through, making this a Bush / Sayers Howdunnit.
Splendid example of black humour: plot involves dead cats, and the victim’s name is Manx: a cat without a tail—as humans are.
- Gethryn’s methods: Instinct + Experience + Reason