Murder in Blue

Author was a bank clerk by day and a novelist by night

A new edition of Murder in Blue was published in 2021
A new edition of Murder in Blue
was published in 2021
Clifford Witting, who was born on this day in 1907, 115 years ago today, in Lewisham in Kent, was one of the younger of the Golden Age mystery writers. He worked as a clerk for Lloyds Bank during the day and wrote 16 detective novels in the evenings, between 1937 and 1964.

His first novel, Murder in Blue, was republished in 2021 by Galileo Publishers, making it available again for present day fans of vintage detective stories to read and enjoy. The novel was written while Witting was commuting to London for his day job and he would work on it every night, despite the distractions of becoming a young father.

Witting set a lot of his mysteries in the small town of Paulsfield in the county of Downshire behind the South Downs, which was based on the town of Petersfield in Hampshire. He included many details about Petersfield as it was in the 1930s, even describing the statue of King William III mounted on a horse that stands in the market place, although in the fictional town of his novel, he says it is the statue of a local lord.  

He had a flair for describing settings and wrote in a witty style. He also experimented with the conventions of the detective story, showing his fascination with the genre.

His protagonist in Murder in Blue, John Rutherford, runs a bookshop that stocks detective fiction. He employs a young assistant, George, who is fascinated with whodunits and is thrilled when his employer becomes involved in a real-life murder case.

Rutherford is out walking one evening when he discovers the body of a young police officer lying in a lane on the outskirts of the town. The police officer appears to have been bludgeoned to death. Rutherford tries to think quickly and uses what he believes to be the police officer’s bicycle to cycle to the police station and report the tragedy.

Clifford Witting worked as a bank clerk by day
Clifford Witting worked as
a bank clerk by day
He is later taken back to the scene of the crime by the investigating officer, Inspector Charlton, so that he can point out the tracks he himself has left in the sodden ground and help the Inspector identify any clues that have been left by the murderer. He is also called to give evidence at the inquest and soon becomes on friendly terms with the detective.

The story is given additional interest by the complication that Rutherford has recently fallen in love with a beautiful young woman after their cars collided in the fog. A love interest in a detective story was frowned on in those days by other Golden Age writers, but in Murder in Blue it is an additional source of suspense for the reader. I found myself wondering how the relationship would turn out and whether it would have anything to do with the murder.

Witting’s two series characters, Sergeant - later Inspector - Peter Bradford and Inspector Harry Charlton, appear in most of his 16 books.

During World War II, Witting served as a bombardier in the Royal Artillery and a Warrant Officer in the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. He joined the Detection Club in 1958, 11 years after the original publication of Murder in Blue, at a time when Agatha Christie was the president. Witting died in 1968 in Surrey.

Newspaper critics of the time gave his books good reviews, saying he produced interesting puzzles with ingenious solutions and that he played fair with the reader. I would definitely recommend Murder in Blue, as I think it is a good read and keeps up the whodunit element well. The novel also provides an interesting snapshot of life at the time it was set. 

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The Man in the Queue

The novel that introduces the likeable but fallible Inspector Alan Grant

The Arrow edition of The
Man in the Queue
A man is found with a stiletto in his back, having been stabbed to death while queueing for the last night of a popular West End show. The main problems for Inspector Alan Grant of Scotland Yard, who is deployed to investigate the killing, are the lack of clues to the victim’s identity and the fact that no one in the queue seems to have seen what happened.

The Man in the Queue, the first detective novel by Josephine Tey, was published in 1929, just eight years after Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and six years after Dorothy L Sayers published her first novel, Whose Body?

But unlike Poirot and Wimsey, Alan Grant is a detective by profession and not an amateur sleuth. The novel is an early version of a police procedural and shows Grant interacting with his superiors and subordinates and making use of the forensic tools the police had at their disposal in the 1920s to try to solve the case.

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by the writer Elizabeth MacIntosh, who was born in 1896 in Scotland. She trained as a Physical Training instructor and taught at schools in Scotland and England. In 1923 she returned to her family home in Inverness to care for her invalid mother and keep house for her father and it was then that she began writing.

The Man in the Queue was her first mystery novel and introduced her series detective, Inspector Alan Grant. It was awarded the Dutton Mystery Prize after it was published in America.

MacIntosh’s main ambition was to write a play that would have a run in the West End and her drama, Richard of Bordeaux, was such a success when it was first staged in 1932 that it was transferred to the New Theatre, now the Noel Coward Theatre, where it had a year-long run and made a household name of its young leading man, John Gielgud.

Josephine Tey was a pseudonym used by Elizabeth MacIntosh
Josephine Tey was a pseudonym
used by Elizabeth MacIntosh
As Josephine Tey, MacIntosh produced six novels featuring Alan Grant. The fifth novel, The Daughter of Time, published in 1951, was voted the greatest crime novel of all time by the British Crime Writers Association in 1990.    

There is a lot to like about The Man in the Queue. There are beautiful descriptions of Tey’s native Inverness, where she sends Grant in pursuit of a suspect. All the characters, police and suspects alike, are interesting and believable. Grant is a well-rounded policeman, not just a caricature, who is looked after by his landlady, dines regularly at a French restaurant, and is popular with the ladies, making me keen to read the next book in the series, A Shilling for Candles.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the novel is the clever plot. Like other writers of the period, Tey is not afraid to show Grant arresting the wrong man and feeling dissatisfied with his solution. She also manages to keep the true identity of the murderer a secret right up to the end.  

The Man in the Queue was republished by Arrow Books in 2011.

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