- By R.A.J. Walling
- First published: UK: Hodder & Stoughton, 1937; US: Morrow, 1937, as Marooned with Murder
Philip Tolefree and his narrator/admirer/boyfriend Farrar are shipwrecked on a Scottish island (with castle) in the middle of a loch. Farrar’s acquaintance, a retired shipmaster, vanished three months before; there is a local legend of buried treasure (money sent to the Young Pretender from France); and their hosts are horrified to learn that Tolefree is a detective. This should have been much better; it seems to belong to the Romantic line of Chesterton, Carr, or Mitchell, but the situation is wasted. The book is strangely pointless: a detective story without any mystery. Almost from the start, we know (and Tolefree knows) that the people on the island are concealing a murder. The twist at the end might have succeeded in a short story; in a novel, it’s too little, too late.
Mike Grost considers it a boring failure, because it eliminates many important aspects of standard mystery fiction: who done it, the situation behind the crime, the motive. Bill Pronzini also panned the book.
1937 Morrow, as MAROONED WITH MURDER
An Atlantic breaker hurls Mr. Tolefree up against his most dangerous case … on a storm-bound island off the coast of Scotland.
PLOT: Tolefree had told Farrar he was a babe in a boat. Now here they were, cast up by a storm onto dark Rona Island – and into the midst of the mystery of Captain John Strachan who disappeared one foggy Sunday – boat, mysterious companion, and all.
PEOPLE: Mr. Tolefree, that genial sleuth, and his friend Farrar, on a holiday in Scotland; Captain Strachan, an old seadog whom Farrar had known; and the strange household at Rona Castle: Gregg, lord of the isle; Margaret, his wife; Jane Duke, governess of their small son John; Parracombe, the hanger-on artist; and Fergus and Jamie, the Greggs’ strange retainers, who whispered in Gaelic.
PLACE: Eilean Rona, a lonely, rocky island off the mountainous Scottish coast, that might just as well have been an atoll in the Pacific, instead of within one hundred miles of Glasgow.
Mr. Tolefree on a busman’s holiday finds his gift for weighing imponderables put to its most exciting test, in a romantic mystery by that master of atmosphere, R.A.J. Walling.
Times Literary Supplement (Caldwell Harpur, 27th November 1937): On Eilean Rona, a Hebridean island, old Captain Strachan hunted imaginary treasure. A stranger joined him. Both vanished. The only other people on the island were Gregg and family and two retainers in a castle. They rescued Tolefree and his friend, wrecked in a September squall. Tolefree noticed their nervousness when the Strachan mystery was mentioned. He gradually unearthed their connexion with it. A man had been killed, but he deserved it so well that in real life they would hardly have hidden it. But then Tolefree could not have shown his ingenuity nor run what looked at the time like great risks.