Sunday, June 18, 2017

Deed Without a Name: Review

In Deed Without a Name (1940) by Dorothy Bowers Archy Mitfold is a self-important young man who has often daydreamed about playing Sherlock Holmes and has often made ordinary events mysterious just to feed his longing for adventure. He reminds me a bit of Walter Mitty--turning everyday events into Something Important. That is, until something important actually does happen. As he tells the maid in his aunt's house (where he has been staying since summer), it's something he "stumbled onto by chance" and he's just got to see it through on his own. It doesn't matter that somebody has already tried to kill him three times--once by speeding automobile, once by a shove in the back when he was at the train station waiting to meet someone, and once through poisoned chocolates--that just adds spice to the game. And, really, that's all it is to Archy...just a game. But somebody's playing for keeps and he won't survive attempt number four.

After the three stymied attempts, Archy meets two of his friends at an "Old Boys" weekend for their school. He gives them a brief summary of the facts and when they urge him to tell the police, he insists that this is his show and he's going to come up with more clues before turning them over to the police. He then heads back to his aunt's house--which is empty because she has gone away for the weekend herself--where he plans to write up his latest findings in his diary. While he's working away, there is a knock at the door. He opens it, says "Oh, it's you, is it?" and lets someone (we're not told who) in. The next we see Archy, he's dead. He's found hanging from a curtain rod in an apparent suicide. 

But it doesn't take Inspector Dan Pardoe and Sergeant Tommy Salt long to figure out that it's murder they're dealing with. Archy was bashed on the head before being strung up and then, of course, his  friends come forward with the tale of the previous attempts on Archy's life. The maid also has information about Archy's late-night rambles. She doesn't know where he went, but he was dreadfully excited and secretive about it. 

Meanwhile, all of England is on the hunt for the whereabouts of Sampson Vick, a philanthropic millionaire who has recently gone missing. And Pardoe's investigation reveals that Archy was interested in Vick's disappearance as well. Is there a connection? And what is the meaning of the bird drawings and clay figures that Archy has left amongst his papers and around his room? Pardoe believes the birds to be a secret code and if he and Salt can just find the key then they'll be able to pinpoint Archy's murderer.

This is a solid Golden Age Mystery. The war has just begun and the blackout plays a bit of role. Pardoe and Salt are good coppers, not quite as idiosyncratic or charismatic as some policemen of the period, but an interesting pair all the same. Bowers plays fair with her readers--and, if you know much about birds (particularly the birds of England), you'll probably spot the villain much earlier than I did. I did get there before all was revealed at the end though.  ★★


This fulfills the "Policeman" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

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