Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding

published 1931







[A serial killer is on the loose in the small town of Eastrepps, and so some of the residents have become vigilantes]

There, indeed, was someone – a horrible figure in long skirts. And why was the head round, dark, and of inhuman shape?

“I don’t believe it’s a woman at all,” said the Colonel to himself. “It’s a man disguised.”

He lifted the niblick and fell into a posture of attack.

“Halt!” he cried.

The figure came to a stand, not three yards away.

“Who are you?”

A thin voice, shaking with terror, came through the darkness.

Colonel Hewitt lowered the niblick. He had recognized the voice.

“My dear Mrs Cappell, this is most unwise. What are you doing out at this time of night?”

“Is that you, Colonel Hewitt? How you startled me!”

Mrs Cappell put out her arm for support, resting it on the fence.

The Colonel put a hand on her sleeve. She was trembling like a frightened horse.

“I’m on patrol,” he said – “President of the Vigilance Association.”

The Colonel looked curiously at Mrs Cappell. He could see her clearly now, and the curious contraption on her head.

“You are looking at my hat, Colonel,” she said. “It’s a crash helmet. I borrowed it from Bertie, my nephew, who wears it on his motor-cycle – lined with steel you know, and I thought that it might be just as well…”




observations: This must have been one of the first serial killer books, and the authors (plural – pseudonym for 2 men) rack up considerable tension, amongst the townsfolk and the readers, while also putting in engaging and amusing scenes like the one above. The final solution did not astonish me (almost every character by this time was either victim or suspect) but I was completely engrossed in the story, rushing through the book to see how it would play out.

I hugely enjoyed the same authors’ The Norwich Victims, and this book was well worth digging up too – both have been recently re-published by Arcturus Press. I mentioned an unusually open attitude towards sex before, and this is true of this book too. Margaret, the main female character, would undoubtedly be a very bad woman in most novels of the time: she is adulterous, tells lies, wants a fake divorce and makes it clear that she would perjure herself if necessary to save her lover. But the authors are absolutely non-judgmental about this, her actions are seen as quite reasonable because circumstances have brought her to that. It is clear that other people – including members of a jury – would be outraged, but we are expected to be better than that.

The book is well-written and funny – I like the sentence (from someone’s thoughts) about a lost missionary fiancĂ©: ‘The Boxers had chopped him up in ’02’. There is so much historical and sociological interest and detail that there will be another entry on it next week.

Crime writer and blogger Martin Edwards mentioned this book at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, and there is a fair amount of talk about it on crime fiction blogs, including at Christine Poulson’s A Reading Life – quite a few people prefer it to The Norwich Victims, but I would probably give Norwich the edge.

A niblick is a kind of golf club.

The picture is from a series we have used several times – for the Hunger Games and for Petrova Fossil – pictures of aviation pioneer Helen Richey and her circle, now at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

13 comments:

  1. Moira, this sounds like a delightful book as evident from the passage you reproduced and the fact that it is well-written and funny. I haven't heard of this combination of pseudonymous writers.

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    1. Thanks Prashant - I hadn't heard of them till very recently, and now I'ver read two books by them and would read more. I don't know why they were forgotten, they are really good.

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  2. Moira - Oh, I must try this one! I have a great deal of respect for authors who could ratchet up the tension - even do a serial killer kind of plot - without adding in lots of gore and stereotyped characters. This sounds like it pushes a lot of the right buttons. Trust Martin to suggest a good 'un.

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    1. Yes indeed, Margot. It's like a cross between a serial killer story, a procedural and a cozy - and excellent at all, with some good writing and touches of wit. What more could you ask for?

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  3. Interesting books though from the premise of this and the previous entry I'm drawn more to this. Tempted, but when would I read it?

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    1. IN the time saved by not choosing and obtaining other new books? Sorry, another cheap shot that I couldn't resist.

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    2. OOOOOOOUCH! Another blow below the belt! Might need some retail therapy to aid recuperation

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  4. These books do sound very interesting, and I will put the author on a list to look for. Maybe they will show up at the book sale.

    I recently purchased another Arcturus Press book... Blueprint for Murder by Roger Bax, which I see that you covered back in August 2013. I had not realized (or had forgotten) that Bax was the same author as Andrew Garve.

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    1. The Arcturus catalogue is full of gems and might-be gems: Blueprint for Murder is an odd one - I also mentioned it in my smog posting last week, because the plot in it relies on heavy fog...

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    2. Often I would rather pick up old books like that in early paperback editions. There are pros and cons both ways. It is good when vintage mysteries are reprinted.

      I missed your reference to the Bax book in the Smog post. Silly me for not clicking on the links. I would have been so excited to see some info about that book. I am dithering about what (print) books to take with me on the trip. They need to be light, both in weight and in content, because I often can't concentrate on a trip.

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    3. I should have given more details for the links, I thought that afterwards! I don't want to make it too long, but I thought people probably couldn't tell whether they want to follow the links from the limited info I gave. Well, we live and learn. When I travel I like to take a variety: something lightweight, something serious, something I'm certain I'll love. But Tracy, that's where the Kindle comes in...

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    4. I know, I should depend on my Kindle (actually the app on the tablet), but electronic devices are not fail proof (or fool proof). I did download one book to read on the trip by Sulari Gentill. And I have a few others in mind. But... I have a horror of spending a week in Alabama with no books. No one in my family reads the way I do.

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    5. True enough - there's nothing worse than the Kindle failing!

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