Friday, 12 December 2008

Forgotten Book - Constable, Guard Thyself!

My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books is another one from Henry Wade. I've previously covered The Dying Alderman in this series. Now for a look at Constable, Guard Thyself!, which dates from 1934. Don't be too put off by the odd, old-fashioned title. It's a decent book by a fine writer.

Actually, the book might with stricter accuracy, given the rank in the Brodshire police force of the murder victim, Captain Scole, have been entitled Chief Constable Guard Thyself! It features death by shooting in the unusual setting of a police station (a plan is provided) and an investigation conducted – once the locals have decided to call in Scotland Yard – by Wade’s regular detective, the pleasingly fallible Inspector Poole.

Wade was willing to experiment with styles and story-lines, and this novel is a reminder of his early contribution to the development of crime fiction based upon police procedure. Wade’s knowledge of police hierarchies and routine surpassed that of contemporaries such as Freeman Wills Crofts, J.J. Connington, and the Coles, and when Poole reminds Sergeant Gower that ‘they’ve cut us very close on our expenses since ‘31’, his words have an authentic ring. (I was a little less impressed by the scene where Poole ‘arranged with the greengrocer a simple vegetable signal…’, but this was long before the elaborations of The Da Vinci Code.)

Occasionally Wade is described by commentators as a ‘plodder’ or a ‘Humdrum’, but I believe this under-values his work. Henry Lancelot Aubrey-Fletcher, as the splendid name behind the pseudonym suggests, was a pillar of the establishment: a decorated war hero, an alderman and sheriff, who inherited a baronetcy in 1937. Yet, as this book demonstrates, he was not afraid to contemplate the possibility of police malpractice and miscarriages of justice. In some ways he seems in real life to have been the sort of man upon whom other crime writers of the time might well have modelled their own heroes – yet despite the demands of public life, he contributed valuably to the development of the genre for almost three decades.

He demonstrates his commitment to fair-play puzzling in an especially bold fashion here, offering major clues to the murderer’s identity at a very early stage; sadly, they may be too obvious to deceive the astute modern reader. Nevertheless, the book gives an interesting portrayal of police work in the 30s, and remains readable to this day.


pattinase (abbott) said...

I always enjoy books from this era. Solving a crime can be lots of fun despite what some newer writers think.

Martin Edwards said...

Absolutely. A crime novel can do lots of things, and entertaining the reader with a great puzzle is one of the worthy purposes, in my opinion.