Murder by the Clock (Rufus King)

By Rufus King

First published: US, Doubleday, 1929; UK, Chapman & Hall, 1929

Blurb (US)

King - Murder by the Clock.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

Special CRIME CLUB Bulletin

I think this is the most extraordinary book the Crime Club has ever published.

It’s the story of a man who was murdered twice.  At 8:34 P.M. the body is discovered by the police.  By midnight the corpse has been revived by the injection of adrenalin into the heart.  By one o’clock he has been murdered again.

The treatment is worthy of Somerset Maugham; restrained, yet intensely dramatic – it is rich, sombre, mysterious, exciting – its psychology and atmosphere have a dark haunting almost suggestive of Conrad.

Murder by the Clock is an amazing event.



Blurb (UK)

King - Murder by the Clock UK.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

This is a highly original form of detective story.  Every chapter is marked with the time of its principal event, and each contains a crisis.  The whole story takes eleven hours out of one extraordinary night.  At 8.34 p.m. the body is discovered by the police.  By midnight the corpse has been revived, and by one o’clock he has been murdered again.  The rest is a long series of excitements.

My review

2 stars

King was to the English language what Aubrey Beardsley was to drawing.  He writes like an opium addict in the throes of a reefer dream.  His characters are limp, pallid, half-dead things; and his women predatory monsters.

Murder by the Clock is set entirely at night, and all the characters are unpleasant.  The victim’s wife wants to have deep and meaningful conversations and hang herself; the maid hates her mistress; and the housekeeper is a religious fanatic.  Valcour, his introspective detective, wanders vaguely and futilely through dark buildings, musing on the meaning of things.

Contemporary reviews

Books (NY Herald Tribune) (Will Cuppy, 5th May 1929, 170w)

NY Times (5th May 1929, 200w):

Murder by the Clock belongs very near the top of the list of this season’s detective stories.


NY Evening Post (F.F. Van de Water, 11th May 1929, 50w):

Murder by the Clock is much the best of an inordinate amount of detective fiction we have read this year.  In plot, in timing of climaxes, in sheer writing skill it is a fine, intense book.


Outlook (W.R. Brooks, 22nd May 1929, 70w):

An extremely well written thriller.  This is one of the three best detective stories we have read during the past year.


Times Literary Supplement (23rd May 1929, 200w)

Bookm (June 1929, 30w):

Unusual mystery story.


NY World (2nd June 1929, 280w):

Less than twelve hours, vibrant with suspense, are required for this story to complete its course, and there is not a minute of that time in which something vital, griping, bewildering is not going on.