Browsing on Amazon recently, having awarded Sealed Room Murder the prestigious Novel of the Year Award 2019, I searched for Rupert Penny and found this title at a price reduced sufficiently to tempt this Yorkshireman into making an immediate purchase. The second question was: is it actually any good? So I headed for the world’s only known ranking of Penny’s eight book output to find that it was rated Number One!
Simon Selby escapes from Hilary Peake’s private mental hospital into the surrounding New Forest. This is followed a week later by the disappearance of three people: a second housemaid, a journalist, and a hiker. During the course of a search it is in fact a police sergeant who is found dead – minus his left shoe. But as time passes, other corpses are found in copses, also missing sinister footwear.
As with “Sealed Room Murder”, there is humour amongst the killing, including Dr Wrench’s reaction to Peake’s desire to read Milton’s “Paradise Lost”:
“I’d as soon eat a cubic mile of batter pudding myself – aren’t you sleeping well?”
And this description of D.S. “Horsey” Matthews:
“In appearance he resembled a jockey who had grown to resemble a favourite mount, and he was quite untroubled by this fact.”
However the reality of violent death is also addressed as Beale reflects after finding a badly decomposed body:
“Could a sane person do a thing like that? Make a living girl into a twisted dead scarecrow, a damp decaying monstrosity? But of course he wouldn’t know she’d look like that. Why in the world is it so damnably easy to die? It takes months and months to get born, and start the machinery going, and a fraction of a second to spike it.”
A good entry into the GAD serial killer sub-genre, and whilst I was expecting a subversion of the form with the first disappearance which didn’t appear (I guess it was still 1938 after all), I placed an incorrect interpretation on a key piece of evidence, having earlier written down various possibilities of how this type of tale could be resolved.
I didn’t enjoy it as much as “Sealed Room Murder” but I will continue to turn pounds into Pennys, perversely enough with the lowest ranked book because based on the grisly synopsis and title I just have to have “She Had to Have Gas”.