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Mystery Monday – Unholy Dying

Unholy Dying by R. T. Campbell


Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)


The twist in this 1945 murder mystery is that no suspect has an alibi. When geneticist Ian Porter, disliked by fellow scientists and research assistants alike, is found murdered most foul at a learned convention, plant physiologist John Stubbs is determined to find the perp and clear his nephew, Andrew Blake.

The star is Professor Stubbs. He frequently quaffs beer lest he become dehydrated, eats with no regard to caloric intake, smokes a disgusting pipe, and speaks like a character out of Dickens. His high spirits, eccentricity, and flowery way with words are mostly amusing and engaging. But in the last quarter or so of the book, the reader is reminded of the New Yorker cartoon in which the wife takes the husband aside at a party and advises, “Would you please stop being so ‘larger than life.’”

Author Campbell was a poet, but he has realistic insight into the rivalries and enmities among scientists, who are ever mindful that credit for generating knowledge be assigned to the correct expert, especially if they are the expert.  The university setting and atmosphere of competitiveness and adversarial challenge ring true, especially for readers who are experienced with principle investigators who are determined to generate knowledge, establish reputations, and attract grants.

Campbell’s next book was Bodies in a Bookshop. It starred Stubbs too, and the narrator was another young associate, Max Boyle. In Unholy Dying, the young narrator Andrew Blake tells the story in the first person in parts one and three.

Whodunnit writers have a long tradition of poking fun at their own genre. Affectionate jibes are sent the way of John Dickson Carr, with Stubbs reading Carr’s “impossible murder” mysteries to clear out his brain. Readers that like Edmund Crispin and Rex Stout’s beer-drinking amateur detectives will like Stubbs too. Readers that enjoy careful, literate, and entertaining  use of language will be reminded of Nicholas Blake, Michael Innes , and Patricia Wentworth.

Bodies in a Bookshop is pretty easy to find at PBS, but Unholy Dying will have to go on your Wish List. Good luck.


You can read Matt’s review of  Bodies in a Bookshop here: LINK

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