Thursday, 17 April 2014

Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding: part 2

published 1931






There was a large garage, where the charabancs stood, half in and half out of the yard. Several cars were slipping, one by one, like beads on a string, round the huge bulk of the Eastrepps to Mundesley motor omnibus.

Mrs Dampier gazed resentfully at the passing cars. She could remember the time when Eastrepps had still been a fishing village, with its flint-faced church, in all the severity of Perpendicular, standing in a little God’s acre set about by Regency houses of stucco. The town had grown out of all knowledge during the last 30 years –not as much as other East Coast places, but quickly enough to annoy the older residents./ And this, of course, was the height of the season. Young men in blazers and grey flannels, accompanied by young women in white pleated skirts and brilliant jumpers, swarmed in the streets and on the sands.






observations: ****There may be light spoilers – I’m not giving away the solution, but there will be a few details and plot points from well into the book. If you are about to read Death Walks in Eastrepps, then save this entry till afterwards!****

This is a second visit to this very good detective story, and it’s something of a tossup whether it’s the plot or the wonderful period & sociological details that make it such a riveting read. I think it would be hard for a modern writer setting a book in 1931 to get some of these details right: there's mention of ‘a parliamentary’ – this turns out to be a cheap, slow basic train service enforced on the railway companies by an Act of Parliament in order to make travel available to all. After one of the murders, boys are ‘crying it in the streets’ – shouting out the details while selling a quickly-produced news-sheet for coppers. This is happening at what seems to be after midnight, when the murder was discovered around 10pm. The next day, someone else’s story of having travelled down from London by train that morning is disputed, because he apparently didn’t notice the dozens of crime reporters and photographers who were on it.

When a character is being tried for his life, he signs his will quickly before the trial starts, ‘while yet there was time – while, technically, he was still a free man. Such was the law.’ The judge has a black cap for passing sentence of death. There is an odd use, to modern readers, of the phrase ‘at fault’ – twice it refers to the police in a manner suggesting it means that they are at a loss or unable to solve the crime.

It’s clear that the serial killer in the book must be caught, because he is affecting trade in the busy resort looked at so disapprovingly by Mrs Dampier above – people are leaving early, which is all right because they have already paid, but others are cancelling in advance. And who can blame them…?

[Incidentally – SPOILER – 





this must be a very rare book of its era in that someone is wrongly convicted AND is executed: usually a last-minute reprieve comes, and sometimes in books such a miscarriage has happened in the past, but I am hard put to think of any other wrongful execution during the main plot in a Golden Age detective story. The police don’t seem to care about this aspect when the true murderer is revealed, and the only person bothered at all is his mistress.]

Crime writer and blogger Martin Edwards mentioned this book at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?, and it was because of his recommendation that I read another Francis Beeding book, see this entry.

Top picture from the Australian Maritime Museum by the wonderful Sam Hood; beach view is also by him, from the New South Wales archives.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - As I was reading your post I was thinking about what this says about the way society was changing at the time. I think those kinds of changes can be awfully hard to take, and that snippet you shared reflects that. And the resort setting - a great idea!

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    1. It's a very good book in its own right, but I do find all those sociological details fascinating.

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  2. I have only skimmed this because of possible spoilers... I have a broader definition of spoilers than most people, which drives my husband and son crazy. But with your reviews and those at Past Offenses, I will certainly be reading this. It just may be a while. I already have a backlog of books to read suggested by you and Colm in this blog. Love the photos.

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    1. I know -too many books, too little time. But this one is a quick and very entertaining read. And, I like to know as little as possible about a book before I start it.

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  3. Skimmed, seeing as the embargo failed miserably and I bought a copy!

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    1. Well you've been successfully getting rid of books so maybe that's ok! (and thanks). Not as noir as some of your choices, but I think you'll enjoy it.

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  4. I'm glad you've picked up on the trains - a much under-reported aspect of this book, I think :-)

    I was surprised by the execution. It's interesting how noble the person concerned is - I never thought the authors would actually go through with it.

    Great photo as well. It's a shame that this one doesn't have its own photos at the front as per The Norwich Victims.

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    1. Yes indeed, I was hoping it would be a feature of the Beeding books. I was glad I noticed something about trains!

      Have you read any others, is there a next one you would recommend?

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  5. Most of the Beeding books are spy thrillers, but they did write some more traditional mysteries. The two mentioned here are the best known of those. The House of Dr. Edwardes is a thriller that became Alfred Hitchcock's Spellbound, after he changed about 90% or more of it!

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    1. Thanks Curtis, that's helpful. I had no idea Spellbound had that lineage.

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