To avoid any confusion at the outset, this was originally published as X v. Rex by Martin Porlock.
Three police constables rush off at speed following a report of an armed robbery at the local manor house but on arriving they find the household asleep. Returning to Farnley police station they find Sergeant Guilfoil slumped across his desk with a bullet hole in his head.
In London, a Bertram Woosteresque pinching of a policeman’s helmet goes badly wrong and ends with PC Henry Beecham strangled to death.
It is only when the third and fourth murders of uniformed officers are carried out in the capital that the authorities realise that a person or persons unknown is deliberately targeting policeman – but how can they find the faceless killer(s) amongst a city of millions?
MacDonald’s earlier serial killer story “Murder Gone Mad” shows in detail how the police try to outwit the killer terrorising a small commuter town, but there they have more evidence to go on as the murderer deliberately writes letters taunting the police and detailing when the next crime is to be committed.
In this book the reader gets to see into the killer’s mind with extracts from a diary but this murderer is more restrained and avoids open communication with the police as they know it could endanger them.
The focus is on Jane Frensham, daughter of the head of Scotland Yard, her fiancé, Sir Christopher Vayle, and mystery man Nicholas Revel. The presence of the latter reminded me of Edgar Wallace and this is definitely more of a thriller than a novel of detection although there is a solvable puzzle of sorts at its heart, but I don’t think it is supposed to be that hidden.
MacDonald certainly doesn’t write the same book twice and this is as different from “Murder Gone Mad” as it is from The List of Adrian Messenger, the final part of his multiple murders triptych.
There is a nice meta touch when we are told in the interestingly written “Kaleidoscope” chapter that “Mr. Victor Gollancz denies that Francis Iles is the pseudonym of Mr. Martin Porlock”.
I’m a sucker for a serial killer mystery so this was on my must have list and enjoyed it, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste. In light of my blog’s title, it is interesting to reflect that The ABC Murders was written in the context of the books previously mentioned and Anthony Berkeley’s “The Silk Stocking Murders”.
What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently
A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard (1941) Sydney Silchester, like Winnie-the-Pooh has an overpowering desire for honey, so when one half of his regular suppliers dies in a tragic accident he has to look for an alternative provider. He meets Mr Mycroft (nudge, nudge) who has moved to Sussex (wink, wink) to keep bees (know what I mean, say no more, say no more) and tumbles into a terrible adventure.
A curious tale with little in the way of detection and ultimately you will be called to come down on one side or the other – and I am very much on the other – yet I am glad to have read it and it does look good on the shelf in this American Mystery Classics edition.