Saturday, 9 August 2008

The High Sheriff

The second Henry Wade novel I read on holiday was The High Sheriff, first published in 1937. It’s very different from New Graves at Great Norne. This time Wade’s focus is on the study of character and the ‘whodunit’ element is relatively straightforward. But it’s an equally successful story.

A lengthy prologue set in the trenches in March 1918 explains why Robert D’Arcy, the High Sheriff of Brackenshire (not Buckinghamshire, as the jacket of my 1970 reprint says), is a man with something to fear. A proud man, he succumbed to a (to my mind, entirely understandable, indeed almost inevitable) cowardly impulse when facing almost certain death and the dread of exposure has haunted him ever since. When someone who knows what happened back in 1918 invades D’Arcy’s privileged world, a tragic sequence of events is set in motion.

A great deal of this book is devoted to horses and hunting – this might normally be enough to cool my enthusiasm for a story, but Wade handles the material with such assurance that he manages to invest a perhaps unattractive group of people with a great deal of interest. Unlike many other Golden Age novelists who attempted to depict upper class society, Wade had an intimate understanding of what he was writing about. He served in the Grenadier Guards for twelve years, and was later High Sheriff of Buckinghamshire (this must be why the reprint publishers made their mistake.) Several of his books describe the long shadows cast by the Great War; this one is a very soundly conceived and written example.

1 comment:

Vegetableduck said...

Martin, it's nice to see you highlighting yet another undeservedly neglected Wade crime novel. I spend some time on this title in my Wade chapter (100 pages typescript!).