Unholy Dying (1945) is the first of a series of mysteries featuring Professor John Stubbs, the larger-than-life botanist-cum-amateur sleuth, by R. T. Campbell. This initial outing is told primarily from the point of view of Stubbs' "Watson," his nephew Andrew Blake. Blake, who earns his keep selling "culture" pieces to the Daily Courier newspaper, has joined Stubbs at a formal Congress of geneticists where he is expected to come up with interesting stories on such things as blood groups and taste tests. But soon something far more exciting than genetic presentations happens.
Dr. Ian Porter, a vastly unpopular scientist who is well-known for stealing the ideas of others, is found dead from cyanide poisoning in the middle of the taste-testing exhibit. Pretty much everyone who ever met the man disliked him and had a motive to murder him--from Dr. Stubbs himself to Porter's unfortunate assistants to fellow scientists in his field and even Blake has the police's interest as a suspect. Ever the knight-errant, Blake had taken a swipe at Porter the evening before when the scientist pushed his unwanted attentions on one of his students, the lovely Mary Lewis.
Mary, of course, is also a suspect having had to fend off such advances repeatedly with more and more evident dislike. Her current beau, Dr. Peter Hatton naturally hates Porter for making Mary's life so uncomfortable. There is also the American Dr. Swartz who has even more reason to hate Porter. While in the States, Porter had snagged the affections of the girl Swartz loved and then promptly dropped her like a hot potato when she found herself "in trouble." She couldn't bear the heartache and dishonor and shot herself. And finally, there is Dr. Silver, Porter's right-hand man. Silver claims to be devastated and to have been Porter's only friend--but he was also in the position to have had the most intellectual property stolen.
The police in the form of Inspector Hargrave provide the foil for Professor Stubbs' efforts at amateur detecting. In fact, Hargrave makes a pretty poor showing for the official force, repeatedly wanting to arrest people on the slimmest of suspicion. Fortunately, Stubbs is digging up honest-to-goodness clues and is able to lay a trap that will catch the real villain of the piece.
So...my reading log tells me that I read this once back in the mists of time, but I honestly don't remember a thing about the book. Which is actually a good thing--I got to approach this absolutely delightful and funny mystery as if I were reading it for the very first time. I love collecting good quotes from the books I read but I would be copying whole pages at a time if I tried doing that with this one. But I will give a small selection at the end of the review.
Stubbs is a wonderful character. I can't imagine wanting to long be in the same room as a man described at various times as everything from an elephant to a tank and noted for hooting, shouting, rumbling, and "whispering" in one's ear loud enough to make the teeth rattle. But he is great fun on paper. Campbell's character descriptions in general are quite vivid and interesting. And his plotting was well done for a first attempt at mysteries. Most enjoyable.★★★★ and 1/2.
Deaths = 4 (three poisoned; one shot)
Conversation in this car was an impossibility. All one could do was to hang on to the sides and hope for the best, thanking God that there was no boom to swing over suddenly and catch you a crack on the head when Uncle John brought her to, rather too suddenly. (p. 4)