Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Dead Lion: Review

Murder only interests me when I feel I could have done it myself. (Miss Pritchard; p.102)

Cyprian Druse was a well-known literary critic who excelled in skewering lesser mortals (known as authors) and revealing their shortcoming to the reading public. No one's work was exempt from literary geniuses to mystery authors to poets. Druse was a self-made expert on it all and considered none of it to be much good. But Cyprian Druse alive was also a world-class cad. He delighted in making women fall in love with him and then turning their emotions into a subtle weapon against them because as he told the radio audience on his last recorded session of "The National Quiz Team": Love does not exist. 

Cyprian Druse dead was a problem. Not for the police or anyone the least bit official--his death is conveniently ruled an accident resulting from an insecure window sash. But his American nephew Simon Crane arrives at his flat ready to meet his British uncle for the first time, hoping for an introduction to the British literary world, only to find Druse's dead body. After the police have gone away, Simon begins finding little bits of evidence which lead him to believe that someone has gotten away with murder--from a torn bit of The New Statesman to a decorative earring to a set of six very unusual records among Druse's famous collection.

The more Simon learns about his uncle the less he regrets his death, but having fallen head over heels in love with one of the women involved he has to know who did it. When Professor Mandrake, one of Druse's fellow panel members on the Quiz Team, comes to the apartment later that night, he is also convinced that Druse has been murdered and is as eager as a bloodhound hot on the scent. Simon initially welcomes the professor's help, but he soon realizes that he doesn't want the amateur detective investigating his new-found love. The two men spend the rest of the book working at cross-purposes--Mandrake is determined to take full advantage of this golden opportunity to solve a real crime. He says to Simon:

Do you mean to tell me you've had this information [previously mentioned bits of evidence] in your hands since...seven o'clock, and now it's nearly midnight, and you haven't mentioned it to a soul except me....But how perfectly wonderful. I'd almost given up hoping that something like this could happen to me.

And Simon is equally determined to A. find out if the woman he's fallen in love with is his uncle's murderer and B. keep Mandrake from finding out about her. He doesn't really care if the lady is the killer--he just has to know. He exerts a great deal of energy sending Mandrake off on other trails and keeping back vital clues.

Neither of the men are true detectives in the classic sense. There isn't much detecting going on, not many clues [beyond the initial display] are discovered, and there isn't much interrogation of suspects. Mandrake does a lot of scribbling in his notebook and muttering to himself about the murder, but the mystery seems to solve itself. Although this is not a traditional crime puzzle, it does provide us with a very interesting examination of the emotions and several views on what love is. While I like Simon very much, I'm not entirely convinced about his fall into love. It seems a bit incredible that a voice on a record could so firmly ensnare him. A good solid read at ★★ and a half. And I look forward to the two other Bonett titles sitting on my shelf. I hope that Professor Mandrake develops quite a bit as an amateur detective.

Dead Lion by John and Emery Bonett [aka husband & wife team of John Coulson and Felicity Winifred Carter] (1949) is my first entry for Rich's Crimes of the Century feature. This month is focused on crime fiction from 1949.

4 comments:

noirencyclopedia said...

An interesting review of a book I recall enjoying a great deal when I read it many years ago. Thanks to this review and Rich's, I'm determined to find a copy for a reread. Many thanks!

Jacqueline Fiedler said...

Sounds like a fun read. I have one of his called "A Banner for Pegasus" and that also sounds good. Too bad Bonett's books are hard to find in libraries anymore. Thanks for another great review!

fredamans said...

Cyprian sounds like someone you'd love to hate, So I can see why he is the one to end up dead... lol. Sounds like a good mystery! Great review!

Bev Hankins said...

Jacqueline, I also have Banner...and one more that I can't remember the title at the moment. I look forward to trying out another.