Friday, July 8, 2016

All Fall Down: Review

All Fall Down (1944) by L.A.G. Strong is an English country village crime novel with fairly heavy psychological overtones--especially for the 1940s. We have two down-trodden women--wife and daughter a tyrant who thinks of nothing and nobody but himself and his books. We have an invalid wife who holds just as much sway over her extremely healthy and guilt-ridden husband. We have two rival tutors--one the aforementioned healthy husband and the other a young woman who thinks nothing of stirring up others to add a little excitment to her own dull life.

When Inspector Ellis MacKay comes to the village for a rest after a difficult case, he finds himself on a busman's holiday. His friend Paul Gilkison, a bookseller by trade, has been asked to visit old Matt Balidon whose collection of rare books is the envy of man a man. Balidon, whose health has been failing him, wants Gilkison to do a valuation of the collection. MacKay has an amateur interest in books (particularly from the 19th Century) and Gilkison thinks the trip will make a nice diversion. A diversion it might well be--but it winds up being anything but nice.

Balidon is a tyrant who has dominated his family for years. If food wasn't a close second to books, then his wife and daughter could have starved for all he cared. His house is chock full of books--books on shelves, books stacked on every available surface, books stacked precariously on top of bookshelves. Gilkison and MacKay make a preliminary visit to the old man...primarily so he can meet MacKay and give the go ahead for him to assist the bookseller. When the return the next day as planned, they find that Balidon will no longer be interested in the value of books. He's beyond taking interest in anything at all.

At first glance, it seems that the man was almost literally killed by his love of books. He is found face-down beneath a great pile of books. It looks like the teetering stacks which he warned every visitor about have finally come tumbling down--burying him and suffocating him under their weight. But the quick eye of Inspector MacKay soon spots evidence that all may not be as it appears. Just the location of the body relative to the suspect bookshelf is a problem. And there are others.

Everyone in the village from the local policeman to the rector would like this to be filed away under accidental death because they all feel for the two women who will finally be free of their tormentor and nobody wants them to suffer police scrutiny. And nobody wants to tell MacKay anything that might help the investigation. But Inspector Bradstreet knows his duty--whether he likes it or not--and as soon as MacKay shows him the evidence of murder rather than accident, he's prepared to help the London man get to the bottom of it. 

What is quite interesting about this book is that there is very little in it to date it--of course, some of the attitudes and comments make it fairly clear that this is not a modern mystery, but there is no mention of the War or rationing or anything at all that might place it in the 40s. There is one vague comment about life during "times like these" but if you didn't know the publication date, you certainly wouldn't know what sort of times "these" might be.

Also of interest is Inspector MacKay who, despite a sometimes mischievous or flippant manner, proves to be a rather shrewd judge of character and reader of psychological clues. He is also very empathetic to the persons involved--understanding the motivations behind their behaviors. This is an interesting look at the village mystery and an examination of various types within the village. ★★ and 1/2.  

This counts for the "Book/Library" category on the Gold Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card. It also counts as my first offering in the 1944 edition of Rich's Crimesof Century over at Past Offenses. If you have any 1944 crime fiction hanging out on your shelves, then come join us!


fredamans said...

Sounds like a decent read, though MacKay might be too hard-nosed for me... lol

J F Norris said...

Hmm... I thought for sure this would be a four star rave from you. I liked it a bit more than you and after finishing it went on to buy all of Strong's mysteries I could find (and afford). The next one, published in the US as MURDER PLAYS AN UGLY SCENE (reviewed on my blog several years ago), is truly excellent. I think your copy of ALL FALL DOWN is pretty scarce. I've never seen that paperback edition until today.

Bev Hankins said...

John--almost made it to four stars. Just lacked a little something to give it the extra push. But then, I just read Checkmate to Murder by Lorac (which you said I might want to give a pass in favor of reading this) and I thoroughly enjoyed it (even though I did guess the solution). I must have thing for her fog-shrouded; black-out mysteries. :-)