Post-War: The Writing on the Wall by Herbert Adams (1945)

Sir James Norland, who has risen from a reporter to his present powerful position of a newspaper baron who owns various newspapers and has been knighted for his services is yet not content. What he wants is a title. His grandson would become Marquis of Mellowfont if his son Peter marries Diana who would become the Marchioness of Mellowfont after her mother’s death. For this purpose he invites Diana and her mother, Lady Mellowfont to a weekend house-party. He also asks his son Peter to be present. Peter, though, arrives with exotic dancer, Ambrosine, with whom he is in love. Diana too though friendly to Peter is in love with army-officer, Ron Platt. Meanwhile, Ernest Goodwin, secretary to Sir James Norland worships the ground Diana walks on. The youngsters, find themselves oppressed by the machinations of their elders though Maria Norland, sister of James, feels sympathetic towards Peter and Ambrosine.

Also invited to the party are the editors of the various newspapers of the powerful Norland media group. As the war is about to end, Sir James wants to debate the course that his influential newspapers should take after the war is over. Should they advocate peace or belligerence? How is Germany to be treated? Which party should they support in the upcoming elections? What about the women? How will the women who have shouldered so much responsibility during the war be asked to behave now? Would they be content with mere domesticity?

Even as the editors debate these questions, another group is discussing something entirely different. A trio of robbers plan to steal the silver. But will they also murder for the silver? As tragedy strikes the weekend party, the police acts with great competence but enter amateur detective, (and Adams’ series detective) Major Robert Bennion, and the police becomes incompetent and the books goes steadily downhill.

Initially I enjoyed this book tremendously, especially the discussion amongst the media men regarding the questions confronting post-war Britain. Have never read a book that discusses these issues so seriously, esp the woman-question which interested me a lot. And really I wouldn’t have minded a few more discussions regarding the same. I also liked the proficiency of Inspector Farnell and the Chief-Constable who doesn’t merely show-up to exchange a few words with the Inspector or profess his grief for murder occurring amongst the upper-class gentry but gets involved in the investigation. However, the entry of Major Bennion and the attempts by the author to make his amateur detective shine at the expense of the professionals took away my enjoyment. That said, I really liked discovering this author and would be reading more of him.

Please recommend any book which discusses the post-war scenario while the war is still on. Would love to read it.


First Line: “It sounds like a page from a Victorian novelette,” said Lady Diana, flicking the ash of her cigarette on to the carpet.

Publishing Details: 1945. London: Collins (The Crime Club), 1945.

Pages: 192

Other Opinions: Beneath the Stains of Time


11 thoughts on “Post-War: The Writing on the Wall by Herbert Adams (1945)

  1. You bring up an interesting point, Neeru, about making an amateur detective shine at the expense of the police. To me, that’s one of the challenges of creating an amateur detective. How do you get that person involved, and have that person play the major role, but at the same time show the police as competent. It’s a very delicate balance. Still, I do like the sound of all of that intrigue! And it is interesting to look at the almost-post-war scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another author I’ve never even heard of. I generally prefer amateur detectives, but it is a bit dodgy (and not generally convincing) to make the actual police out to be incompetents.

    It’s an interesting period, isn’t it? A couple of years ago I read an absolutely fascinating book by Benn Steil, the Battle of Bretton Woods, about economic planning for the postwar period at a conference in 1944. John Maynard Keynes features a lot in it. George Kennan’s writings and Arthur Schlesinger’s biography of FDR I remember as being pretty great on the period, too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The post-war discussion aspect does sound interesting, but I always get irritated when the author decides to make the police incompetent so the amateur can shine! The best amateurs tend to work well with the police, like Poirot.

    Liked by 1 person

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