Friday, 7 October 2011

Forgotten Book - She Had to Have Gas


I’ve mentioned before my enthusiasm for the work of the little known Golden Age writer Rupert Penny, and my choice for today’s Forgotten Book is the last mystery that Basil Thornett wrote under that pen-name, She Had to Have Gas. It was published in 1939; during the war, Thornett worked, most appropriately, as a cryptographer, and after peace was declared, he did not return to the genre.

In this book, as with other mysteries featuring Penny’s regular investigator, Inspector Beale, the cop’s pal, stockbroker and journalist Tony Purdon, is on hand to assist. But it has to be said that Tony’s presence in the stories was never easy to justify, and here his role is pretty superfluous.

The book begins splendidly, with the owner of a modest East Anglian B&B worrying about the creditworthiness of her sole guest. She is right to worry: soon she has good reason to believe the woman has gassed herself. But then the body of the apparent victim disappears – what is going on? Meanwhile, the spoiled niece of a famous crime writer has vanished, and one is tempted to believe that she was living a double life in the guest-house. With Rupert Penny, though, nothing is simple.

In fact, the plot is so elaborate that it comes close to sinking under the weight of its own cleverness. As with a number of similar books, I found the opening scenes and the revelations by far the best parts of the story. In between,there was much that was verging on the turgid. But there is a 'challenge to the reader' and a cluefinder to compensate. Penny was an appealing author and this book, for all its flaws, appealed to me.

4 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for this. I have to say, the title really gets my attention...

hannah Dennison said...

Hi Martin - I'm not familiar with this writer and just love "new" discoveries. I am going to definitely put this on my list near the top!

John said...

Here's one writer I've not gotten around to reading. Mostly because his books are ridiculously expensive when copies turn up on the internet. And I've never found one over here in the US bookshops. Not even one lousy beat up reading copy. And forget trying the libraries in the Midwest. Truly scarce books. I could always go with Fender Tucker's cheap reprints, but so many of the early ones like these Penny books are shoddily produced that just holding them in my hands hurts. I don't like reading books with Arial used as the font. It's like reading a lazy student's research paper. [...grumble, grumble...]

vegetableduck said...

I keep thinking of the title as "She Really Had Gas." Such a vulgar mind I have. I've found the Penny books kind of tortuously over-ingenious in the past, like Ellery Queen on speed; but they are interesting oddities.