The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers (Walling)

  • By R.A.J. Walling
  • First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1936; US: Morrow, 1936

Above-average Walling, if not quite his best. Tolefree is asked to decode a letter sent to a client of his, and stumbles onto a suspicious case of suicide. It at first appears to be an open-and-shut case: if it wasn’t suicide, only Tolefree’s client, a man of two identities, could have committed the crime—but several neat pieces of deduction from ballistics allow him to settle the guilt in another quarter and assist in the capture of an international gang of forgers.


1936 Morrow (US)

When Mr. Tolefree arrived at Old Hallerdon – with its gay company of famous people – they had moved the corpse in the crimson slippers from the fatal guest’s chamber.

Not that Tolefree too greatly cared – at first. For it was the case of the curious cryptogram – rather than a cat-and-mouse game of murder among excited men and women, who didn’t want the police called in – that brought him to this ancient Henry VIII house on Dartmoor.

Then Tolefree became absorbed. In the puzzle of a suicide that was no suicide. In the strange things a man may catch when casting a fishing line on a country lawn. Before a week was out, the link between the corpse and the cryptogram was found – and from thought and meditation, Tolefree moved to swift action… R.A.J. Walling has long since endeared himself to thousands of fans with his seemingly quiet, civilised mysteries, in which drama and excitement seethe below the surface. This is one of the very best of them.

Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Wilfred Arthur Gavin-Brown, 27th June 1936):

It is rare for the good point of a modern thriller to be lack of action, yet in this book the author has proved himself such a master in the creation of an atmosphere of expectancy that it is difficult to put the book down.  However, the rather ghoulish hope that another of Sir Thomas Grymer’s house party at his charming West Country residence, Old Hallerdon, will meet an unpleasant but interesting end is dashed—there is only one corpse, and that in a party of ten!

Few will find difficulty in establishing the identity of “Borthwick”, but it is rather more difficult to guess at “Borthwick’s” interest in Old Hallerdon.  Then there is also Penrose, and the code message which he sent via Jane Jobling, to puzzle Tolefree, the private investigator who had been called in by his friend Felderman to solve the mystery of the death of Sir Thomas Grymer’s trusted employee Lewisson.  There are weaknesses such as the unbelievable carelessness of Ronald Hudson, the explorer, in handing Tolefree a visiting card which had the initials of the Old Hallerdon house party scribbled on the back, but the story as a whole is excellent.

New Statesman & Nation (Ralph Partridge, 4th July 1936):

Mr. R.A.J. Walling, nicknamed “The Ingenious” by his publishers, must sometimes be dubbed “The Ingenuous” by the public.  The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers is a blend of the two qualities.  The crime itself is quite ingenious, but the method of diverting suspicion will only succeed with simple-minded folk.  This is one of the books where the author unwittingly betrays the murderer before we have the least idea how he did the murder.  Moreover, Mr. Walling has infected the story with one of the two perpetual blights of detective novels.  I won’t say which, but Tolefree deserves better of his author than to be dragged into such low company.

Observer (Torquemada, 12th July 1936):

Of course, his publishers are correct in still describing the author of The Corpse in the Crimson Slippers as “the ingenious Mr. R.A.J. Walling”; but I think the slogan does him less than justice.  Since he created Tolefree, Mr. Walling has been moving away from the merely clever thriller and reaching out towards the first-class detective story.  He might have been said to have touched it in his latest if some of the essential portraits had been drawn less vaguely.  I was glad to find that Mr. Walling still satisfies himself and us with a single corpse; I was grieved to sniff the taint of “Secret Service”, and relieved that this foreign element was kept well in its place.