Friday, 22 July 2011

Forgotten Book - Death to the Rescue


I've told the story already of how Milward Kennedy was sued for libel over his 1931 novel Death to the Rescue, but I've chosen the novel as today's Forgotten Book because I found his dedication to Anthony Berkeley very interesting. Here it is:

'"We have sometimes discussed the future of the Detective Novel. We know only too well ourselves-imposed difficulties; our oaths to play fair, to conceal from the reader no clue of which are detective is aware, to eschew Death Rays and Unknown Poisons and over-use of Chinamen. We know, too, our other difficulty – the character of our Detective.

Our public grows sophisticated… It knows that in the investigation there is no place for the talented amateur or the private practitioner… So we are driven to make him a Priest, or Insurance Agent, or Lawyer, or Journalist… These professions grow overcrowded. Worst of all, we make him a policeman – super-eccentric or super-efficient, which ever seems more likely to add a taste piquant enough to hide the smell of machinery. We aim at even greater ingenuity in the ways of murder…

You, I believe, discern a new road – the "inner history" of the murder itself. You and Miss Sayers and others have given us masterly glimpses of that new road. But – will it not lead you away from Detection?

Here is a novel of Detection and little more; with a Detective who is wholly amateur, and has no knowledge of Shellfish or Finger-Prints or Cigar Ash; with no excitement of chase or of lunacy or of the shadow of the gallows spreading across the path of the innocent…

But, since I am the author, the novel does not answer the question, 'can Detection in itself be the whole motive of a Story?" I suggest that you can write a novel which will prove that the answer is 'yes'.'

I rather like the idea of writers setting each other challenges like this. It doesn't happen today in the same way. Sure enough, Berkeley responded with a book dedicated to Kennedy three years later. But he didn't exactly take up the challenge...

5 comments:

vegetableduck said...

It took me years to find this book and then I have to admit I was disappointed, given its reputation. The preface was interesting though. I love how Cox and Kennedy found it necessary to assign weighty prefatory statements to so many books. A bit self-important, perhaps, but certainly interesting.

Have you read The Murderer of Sleep or Corpse in Cold Storage yet?

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, I did think this was a very interesting book and I know John Curran admires it a lot.
I haven't yet read the other two MKs, but soon will do, I hope!

vegetableduck said...

Yes, I know Curran is an admirer. Jack Adrian praised it too. My favorites are Death in a Deck Chair, The Murderer of Sleep, Corpse in Cold Storage and Poison in the Parish. I can't say I see M.K. as my favorite "forgotten writer," but he deserves note for his experimenting and is certainly of historical interest.

Martin Edwards said...

Where does Adrian comment on the book, Curt?
I didn't really rate Deck-Chair, but enjoyed Parish a lot.

vegetableduck said...

It was in an anthology of Adrian's that had an M.K. story--I'll have to try to find it for you, I know I have it.

Murderer of Sleep may be his best actual tec novel. Corpse has a fine, dreary, "realistic" setting (with a map!), coupled with Bull and his wife, who are a great pair. He should have done a fuller series with them.