[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 fiancé: ‘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.