Two Books by Clifford Witting : Measure for Murder by (1941) and Subject-Murder (1945)

For years, I had been searching for books by British writer, Clifford Witting. This year finally I was able to read two of his books.

I suppose, he said over his shoulder, we all have our own particular hell.

Measure for Murder can be called a theatrical mystery because Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure is being practised by an amateur drama society when one of the members is murdered, not during the performance though, a la Hamlet, Revenge! In May 1939 the author had watched a performance of Measure for Measure at the Bromley Little Theatre in Kent and the seeds of this novel were sown in his mind.

The narrator is Walter Vaughan (Turtle) who stays in the lodgings of Mrs Doubleday. Other lodgers include a retired manufacturer James Henry Garnett; a chief clerk, Mortimer Robinson; Jack Gough who works in a bank; and Myrna Ashwin, a school teacher. Problems arise when Turtle runs across one of his old school-mates, Peter Ridpath (Tiddler) who has fallen on bad times. Feeling sorry for his school friend, Turtle offers Tiddler a job in his firm. However soon Tiddler’s behaviour causes concern: he is a shirker, not very truthful, always short of money, and has an eye for the ladies. It is not only the lodgers but even members of the dramatic society: Paul Manhow, an architect; Hilary Boyson, the daughter of an important industrialist; and Elizabeth Faggot, the daughter of a doctor, who get tired of Tiddler. The relationship between the friend becomes strained. Murder has to occur.

I can’t pinpoint what the novel lacks but somehow or the other I couldn’t really get interested in any of the characters. And though the revelation of the murderer’s identity was a surprise, it was the person who was murdered that really gave me a shock.

One thing that I enjoyed though was the use of the muses of Tragedy and Comedy, Melpomene and Thalia, to act as a chorus and pass valuable comments.

First Line: As if she ran on invisible wheels, Mrs. Mudge, with her string bag on her arm, swept serenely along Harpur street, turned without slackening her face into Cooper’s Yard, swung to the left under the central archway of the old Bakehouse and, disregarding the door over which some amateur hand had painted “Stage Door,” stopped dead at the door marked “Entrance.”

Pub details: 1941. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd, October 1941.

Series: Inspector Charlton #5

Pages: 286

Other Opinions: Crossexamining Crime


“As a matter of fact,” I began, as one does when it is really a matter of fiction…

The second novel of Witting, Subject: Murder, was published four years after Measure for Murder. It begins the same way as the earlier novel: with a murder. However, while the name of the victim was not revealed in the previous novel, here we know right from the beginning that the murdered man is Battery Sergeant-major, William George Yule. As must be clear, this is a mystery set in an army unit. But it is not the Germans who are the villains here but rather the cruel officers of the British army itself.

The novel is narrated by Peter Bradfield, an assistant of Witting’s series detective, Inspector Henry Charlton, but if he was there in the earlier book, I don’t remember, there being a gap of many months between the reading of the two mysteries. Though CID officers were exempt from enrolling in the army, Bradfield decided to do so and in 1942 he started on his career as a soldier. En route to the Primary Training Centre, he struck up friendship with another recruit, John Fieldhouse. Then for pages and pages, we are told about army life, its training and travails (there is a glossary provided at the end to make all those acronyms easy). This would have interested me had I been reading a book on army life but this was a murder mystery and I wasn’t in the mood for this, esp as much of it had to do with the cruelty of the aforementioned Sergeant-major and the love-affairs of the army personnels. When finally the murder occurred and the police started their investigation, it had reached a point where I couldn’t care less about any of it.

That said, this book does give us a glimpse of the war-years. The whispers in the trains lest German spies be among the passengers (and I really really want to know what happened to the young man who had his nose in the book):

The train stopped at a station and, without seeming to transfer even a fraction of his attention from his reading, the boy with the spearmint felt for the door-catch and got out. He set off along the platform with the thriller within six inches of his nose. Whether he knew where he was, or why he had come there, and whether he finished his story before becoming involved in a fatal accident, I have never known.

[I also want to know which was the thriller that he was reading because if I encounter any person with a book in hand, I simply have to know the title.]

The furtive love-affairs, the women whose husbands have become p-o-w: in fact, the most interesting to me was the affair of an officer who realises later, to his shock, that the woman whom he had met and who had introduced herself as unmarried had in fact a husband who was currently a p-o-w: the remorse of the man, the (slight) guilty explanation of the woman made interesting reading.

The book also made me aware of that when civilians are recruited in the army – some of them without undergoing any of the tough training that army demands – a handful of them become tyrants in their positions of petty power. Some of the incidents are really very ugly, a few of which involve animals. In fact, I am surprised that the book published in January 1945 could present such an unflattering picture of the British army.

When the book ends, Bradfield is ready to go to foreign lands and I was reminded of the lines that Johny had quoted earlier:

They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead;

They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter news to shed,

I wept as I remembered how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.


There was a Door to which I found no key:

There was a Veil past which I could not see:

Some little talk awhile of Me and Thee

There seem’d – and then no more of Thee and Me.


  • I am keen to read the books that followed this in the series to see where life has taken Bradfield.


First Line: Most of us at Battery headquarters had certainly considered the possibility on more than one occasion, yet, for all that, it came as rather a shcok when somebody did murder the Sergeant-major.

Publication Details: January 1945. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1945.

Series: Inspector Harry Charlton #6

Pages: 280


And to end the post, here is a song that Tiddler plays:


12 thoughts on “Two Books by Clifford Witting : Measure for Murder by (1941) and Subject-Murder (1945)

  1. Subject: Murder does sound interesting, Neeru. I always appreciate it when I learn something as I read. Of course, I’m hard to please, because I also want to enjoy the story… At any rate, I do know what you mean about characters you just don’t care about very much. For me, that’s one of the things that pull me out of a book, at least somewhat. Even if the plot is excellent, I still want to care about the characters.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sad that neither worked out as you’d hoped, but I do like the sound of the setting of the first around Measure for Measure, and the more critical view of the army in the second considering it was a contemporary piece. Hope future books you read by Witting turn out better

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve been trying to decide which Witting to start with. Now I know…not these. Like you, I like to feel engaged with the characters. I don’t have to like them, but something about them has pique my interest.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laurie, I think Kate of Crossexamining Crime enjoyed Measure for Murder more than I did. So plz have a look at her review and then decide whether you want to start with it… or not. Whichever book you choose, I will await your review eagerly.

      Liked by 1 person

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