Death by Request by Katherine and Romilly John (1933)

The first thing that stuck me when I borrowed the book was that it was published by Hogarth Press. That was quite a shocker. Hogarth Press as all of us know was founded by Virginia and Leonard Woolf and I always assumed that it wound up its operation sometime in the middle of the twentieth century. But apparently here it was publishing books in the 1980s. Secondly, I was under the impression that it published tomes on serious topics that interested the Bloomsbury group, poetry, psychoanalysis, High Modernism… that they would publish a mystery was a surprise indeed. Even more surprising was that this book is part of their crime series. Here is what the publishers write: “The Hogarth Crime Series, in reviving novels unjustly neglected as well as those by the justly famous, offers a new generation the cream of classic detective fiction from the Golden Age.” Sounds very exciting, isn’t it? Unfortunately, the only titles that I have come to know are: C.H.B. Kitchin’s Death of His Uncle; Fergus Hume’s The Mystery of the Hansom Cab; and Cyril Hare’s An English Christmas. If anyone knows of any other, do share.

Death by Request, the only mystery written by the John couple is a country-house mystery with its odd assortment of guests, some peculiar going-ons at night, hidden tensions, blackmail, and murder.

He was, I feared, too young to be employed in a case so rich, if I may use the expression, in young women. (179)

The Reverand Colchester, who also narrates the story, has been invited to a party by his friend Matthew Barry, a widower who lives with his son Edward and his sister, Susan the tartar. Also invited to the party are another friend Colonel Lawrence, who carries a torch for Susan still; Lord Charles Malvern, a distant relative who has recently come to the title after the death of his uncle; Judith Grant, the fiancee of Edward; young Phyllis Winter who is a ward of Susan; and Cambridge educated Anne Fairfax. As the book opens we become aware that Matthew is more fond of Charles than Edward and the former might also have been an old lover of Judith. There is also a village girl with whom Charles is rumoured to have had his way much to the chagrin of the butler of the house who is engaged to the girl. The easy-going Charles is thus not going to win any award for the most-liked personality. And he doesn’t, what he gets is gas poisoning. As evidence mounts against Edward, the Reverend gets more and more involved in the case, being close to Edward and the man Edward goes either to seek support or to unburden himself.

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The novel is good in parts and provides good comedy in the exchanges between the slightly (sometimes deliberately) deaf Susan and the bluff Colonel but it also drags, especially in all those discussions about the blackmailing letters which went round and round, leaving me exhausted and feeling totally out of the loop. However, the end is a real winner and left me completely stunned. And my question to all those who have read it is, do you think Edward knew?

*

First Line: It is not without a feeling of horror and reluctance that I take up my pen.

Publication Details: London: The Hogarth Press, 1984

First Published: 1933

Pages: 340

Other books read of the same author(s): None

Other Opinions: alackofconsensus; CrossexaminingCrime; Do You Write Under Your Own Name?; Furrowed Middlebrow; Mysteryfile

6 thoughts on “Death by Request by Katherine and Romilly John (1933)

  1. I remember liking this when I read it … oh, 20 years ago now. But I agree that some of it is laborious. The English of the early 1930s enjoyed these long chapters of reasoning and deduction, to the point where some mysteries (Ronald Knox and Dermot Morrah, for instance) are almost entirely detective and friend sitting and arguing.

    The Hogarth series was rather good; many had introductions by Patricia Craig and Mary Cadogan (writers of The Lady Investigates, a feminist look at women detectives). Elegant, too, with their monochrome front covers and purple spines.

    Quite a lot of Gladys Mitchell: Speedy Death, The Saltmarsh Murders, St. Peter’s Finger, When Last I Died, Laurels are Poison, and The Rising of the Moon. A few Margery Allinghams (Tiger in the Smoke, The Beckoning Lady, The China Governess, Cargo of Eagles, The Allingham Casebook).

    Some of the artier British gents: Anthony Berkeley’s Dead Mrs. Stratton (Jumping Jenny); Nicholas Blake’s Beast Must Die and Smiler with the Knife; the C.H.B. Kitchins; some Cyril Hare (Suicide Excepted and An English Murder).
    Some of the Humdrums: Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector French’s Greatest Case and The Starvel Tragedy; R. Austin Freeman’s Mr. Pottermack’s Oversight.
    And a few Americans: Rex Stout’s Hand in the Glove (woman PI, not Nero Wolfe), and a couple of Carter Dicksons: Lord of the Sorcerers (=The Curse of the Bronze Lamp), The Skeleton in the Clock.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WoW Nick! You continue to surprise me with your knowledge. I have only read a few of the titles and will search for the others. If they are as good as this book then I’ve a treat in store. When Last I Died, The Rising Moon, The Smiler with the Knife, Lord of the Sorcerers are such interesting titles. Thanks a lot.

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  3. Thanks for the review… I liked this one, even though it was slightly long. In that I’d not been caught out by similar endings for some time – but was caught by surprise here!

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    1. Welcome to the blog JFW. The end certainly caught me by surprise. Thought it was quite revolutionary.

      Do you also blog? If yes, please provide the link, I’d love to visit.

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  4. This is on my list since it’s one of the ones in Martin Edwards’ 100 Books, so I’m glad you felt it had some merit. As for Hogarth, I recently discovered they’d published Muriel Jaeger’s science fiction novels, and was equally surprised as you – not at all the type of thing I expected from them!

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    1. Glad I am not the only one surprised by the Hogarth list. One would expect them to publish books on esoteric topics not common things like sci-fis and mysteries. 😀 I have not heard of Muriel Jaeger but now I’ll have a look at his books.

      This book is going to remain with me. Hope you read it soon, would love to read your views.

      Liked by 1 person

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