This week's featured detective novel is The Voice of the Corpse by Max Murray. Max Murray was born in Australia and worked as a newspaperman in that country, the US, and England and served as scriptwriter,editor, and news correspondent for the BBC during WWII. He was married to author Maysie Greig. He died while on a return trip to Sydney in 1956 at the age of 55. The Voice of the Corpse (1948) is the first novel in a series of eleven mysteries all with "corpse" in the title. His novels, like his life as a journalist and an employee of the BBC, took him to various places in the world. This means that although there is the running "corpse" theme in the titles Murray's books do not have a series detective.
The Voice of the Corpse finds us in a typical post-WWII British village. Murray quickly establishes place and gives us finely drawn characters. The corpse in question for this outing is Angela Pewsey. Angela is that mainstay of detective fiction--a poison pen. Her voice is the voice of sneaky accusation. And until someone silenced her at 3:30 one fine afternoon with a neat blow to the back of her head, the vicious woman had collected bits and pieces of conversation, looked through stolen letters, and spied on her neighbors until she knew at least something about everyone in the village of Inching Round and everything about some of them. Her letters were gloating and threatened to reveal all. That was too much for someone and spelled the end for Angela.
The story is skillfully plotted and provides the reader with a large cast of suspects--because nearly everyone had a reason to stop Angela from broadcasting what she knew. The most prominent suspects are the vain, quick-tempered Graham Ward; Major George Torrens, a retired army man with a secret; the overworked doctor Eric Daw; and Joyce Everard, the woman he loves who just happens to be married--to someone else.
The village police are open to the wandering tramp theory. But though it is an attractive theory none of the locals believe it. And neither do Firth Prentice, a young London solicitor, or Inspector Fowler, the man from Scotland Yard. They discover other folks with motives and means--like Mrs. Sim and her daughter Celia, and the poacher Artie Evans. And then, of course, Angela's venom-soaked diary comes to light with clues enough to lead to the murderer's name...if Prentice and Fowler can decipher them.
Take a cast of plausible murderers, mix well with a shocking confession, and you wind up with a wonderfully exciting and unexpected finale. All told with humor and wit, fine dialogue, and irony. The Voice of the Corpse is another terrific example of post-WWII detective fiction by an author that few readers remember today.