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Mystery Monday – Or Be He Dead

Or Be He Dead by James Byrom

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


A best-selling writer in the true crime genre, Raymond Kennington is telling his story in the 1950s about his adventures in the 1930s when he wrote about a famous trial in the 1890s.

In a London made tense by the coming of WWII, Kennington alleges in his new book that Claude Neville Millington-Forsett was probably guilty of a killing that he was acquitted of in a famous trial of 1894. Millington-Forsett was a nasty throwback to the ethics-free Regency bucks and blades.

Kennington’s publishers are nervous about suits since Millington-Forsett won punishing damages for libel in the past. They send Kennington to Paris with his secretary, comely Josephine Canning, to confirm that Millington-Forsett has in fact shucked off this mortal coil and gone to his eternal deserts, which, the reader hopes, involve slow roasting. Once in Paris Kennington and Josephine kick over numerous rocks and generally get in the face of bad actors whose attention is dangerous to draw.

The premise is original, the adventures are engaging, and the romance tolerable though it provides fantasy fodder for middle-aged male readers who hold fast the delusion that women half their age will be attracted to them. The far-fetched plot twists that the reader is supposed to buy are balanced by the highly literate writing, which is clearly the product of an author who is well-read and a professional writer. The Paris settings feel more sordid and decadent than we usually find in a classic whodunit, but count this as another point that makes this mystery unique. Put this writer in the ranks with Nicholas Blake, Andrew Garve, Cyril Hare, and Michael Innes.

How do the English write the entertaining mystery so well and make it look so easy?





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