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