Friday, 16 January 2009

Forgotten Book - Murder Rehearsal

Now for a really obscure entry to Patti Abbott's series of Friday's Forgotten Books. My contribution this week is a review of Roger East's Murder Rehearsal:

‘Who in the world?’ demanded a reviewer in ‘The Manchester Evening News’ three quarters of a century ago, ‘is Mr Roger East? It is my deliberate and considered judgment that he seems likely to become one of the small band of really first-class detective-story writers.’

Bluntly speaking, this prediction, like so many of its sort, proved to be well wide of the mark. After an initial flurry in the 30s, East produced little notable work in the remainder of his crime writing career and the last time attention was paid to him was on the reissuing in the mid 80s of the splendidly entitled Twenty Five Sanitary Inspectors. This was when Collins produced its very welcome ‘Disappearing Detectives’ set of hardback reprints, with introductions by H.R.F. Keating. The disappearing detective in question was Superintendent Simmonds, who made his debut in Murder Rehearsal, the novel which prompted such lavish praise from the Mancunian critic.

This book caught my eye because of its terrific premise. A likeable young crime writer, Colin Knowles, has an admiring secretary, Louie, who notices a series of links between a book Colin has been working on and three apparently unconnected recent deaths. Before starting to read, I wondered if there might be any similarity between this novel and John Franklin Bardin’s later, excellent book The Last of Philip Banter: the answer proved negative.

In truth, the best features of East’s novel are that first attention-grabbing idea and the final twist, which offers a rather pleasing and unexpected revelation after I had feared that the story would fade into anti-climax. In between, there is a good deal that is far-fetched. That said, East is a readable writer with a light touch. I was definitely entertained, but overall, this book (while not deserving obscurity) does not compare with the superior work of, say, Anthony Berkeley or Philip Macdonald. The characters are lightly sketched, but Simmonds is an agreeable fellow and it is no surprise that East brought him back for further adventures.

5 comments:

vegetableduck said...

Martin,

I thought his best book "The Bell Is Answered," if for no other reason (and there actually are other reasons) than that the heroine has a one night stand with a complete stranger, as I recollect. East at least was unorthodox!

pattinase (abbott) said...

So many of the premise heavy books don't hold up because the writing and character was just not there, I guess.

Scott Parker said...

I'm curious. You write "East produced little notable work in the remainder of his crime writing career." How long *did* he career last after the 30s? And do you think he spiraled into obscurity because of far-fetched middles?

Kerrie said...

I know you don't like memes all that much Martin, but I couldn't resist passing this award on to you.
http://paradise-mysteries.blogspot.com/2009/01/bloggers-who-inspire-me.html

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I have The Bell is Answered, but have yet to read it. Thanks for the recommendation.
Patti, I'm sure you're right. And also, it's easier to conceive an ingenious premise than to come up with a truly satisfactory and original resolution of the story.
Scott, oddly enough East continued to publish occasional crime novels well into the 1960s. He did many other things with his life and I suspect the crime writing was just a fun side-line. Once I've read a few more of his books, I intend to write again, and in more detail, about his work.