“Here, steady on! we are not in Chicago, you know.”…
“We are in London and that is far more dangerous because it is safer.”
Earlier this year I read The Death Coins by an author new to me – Walter S. Masterman. I did not enjoy the book but was also not ready to dismiss the author after just one read so asked for recommendations. John @ Pretty Sinister Books, who has read more authors than I know names of – suggested a few titles while stating that his own favourite Masterman was the “Hitchcockian pursuit thriller” The Hunted Man. At that I could have kicked myself because in the library I had been torn between The Death Coins and The Hunted Man, finally choosing the former because of its explosive beginning.
But now finally I have read the book and can stop kicking myself.
Robin Martin is a happy-go-lucky guy who has just graduated from Cambridge when the novel opens. An orphan brought up by his strict puritan grandfather, Robin is happy to just go along where life leads him but even he would not have thought – as he has a farewell dinner with his two friends who have careers in front of him and are leaving England for the time-being – that an adventure of such dimensions awaited him.
After his friends are gone, Robin is asked by a woman sitting at another table whether he would escort her to the taxi as she fears that if she was to step out of the restaurant alone, she would be kidnapped. Robin thinks her story is all cock-and-bull but goes along only to be assaulted as he hails a taxi for her and loses consciousness. When he opens his eyes, he finds that his life has changed because he can no longer see. The doctor who is attending on him tells him that he was found unconscious by a Good Samaritan called Patterson who happened to be the doctor’s friend and thus had brought Robin to the doctor. Slowly Robin recovers from the injuries received when he was mugged and starts thinking of leaving the doctor’s place. However, the nurse who attends on him tells him that the men are not good, helping people but rather rogues who will never let Robin go unless he complies with what they say. And sure enough the next day, Patterson and Dr. Whitelaw puts forth their proposal to Robin. He braces for the worst but is bowled over when they tell him that he has to marry! This, the doctor explains, would be an act of charity as his bride-to-be is so hideously deformed that none would marry her, but for a blind man her grotesqueness might not matter. And further, the girl once she marries will inherit a considerable fortune. Robin wants to hear it from the girl and sure enough a girl’s voice acquiesces that she is willing to go through these nuptials only they would have no contact after they step out of the Registrar’s office. The wedding takes place and Robin is brought back to the clinic but now in fear of his life he makes a desperate attempt at escape.
This time round, he is picked up by a certain Dr. Marsac who tends to his wounds and makes him comfortable but has his suspicions and thus calls up an old aquaintance, Sir Arthur Sinclair of the Scotland Yard. It is just as well because Robin is going to need all the help that he can because the men pursuing him are one determined lot who would not stop at anything to stop Robin from revealing what he happened to come across on the last day of captivity.
This book offers a thrilling ride and one doesn’t know whom to believe. Who is really a friend? Right from the woman who asked Martin to escort her, to the doctor who tended to his wounds, to a maid who promptly disappeared, to the garrulous inn-keeper, to a man who was good company, to the rich man who magnanimously invited him to his yacht for a cruise, who can be trusted? The reader is as much unsettled as Robin. The ending doesn’t quite pack the punch that I expected after such an adrenaline-filled ride but guess the writer wanted to have a pair of young people mouthing romantic nothings in the sunset. And I quite concurred with Sir Arthur Sinclair’s young assistant Dick who mouths the closing lines:
“Darling!” Dick muttered contemptuously. “Here, this ‘ere voyage is most interesting, but you and me, gove’nor, must be getting on to our next case…”
I, for one, am definitely eager to read more of their cases!
Have you read any of their cases? Which ones would you recommend?
First Line: When Robin Martin came down from Cambridge at the end of his third year, he went to the Master to say good-bye.
First Published: 1938
Other books read of the same author: The Death Coins