My Forgotten Book today is The Grindle Nightmare, by Quentin Patrick, and I have to thank John Norris of Pretty Sinister Books for not only calling it to my attention, but also supplying me with a copy. Very kind of him, and, I must say, typical of the kindness which, I have found, abounds among crime bloggers and fans.
The book was first published in 1935, and was one of two books which Richard Wilson Webb, an Englishman born (like Robert Barnard) in the Essex town of Burnham, and an American journalist, Mary Louise Aswell, wrote under the pseudonym (used almost interchangeably with the name Q.Patrick – the name Patrick Quentin was used extensively in later years). Webb had earlier written with another woman, Martha Mott Kelley, but his major collaborator was Hugh Wheeler, another Englishman who eventually became famous for writing the book of musicals such as A Little Night Music.
The setting is a rather remote New England valley called Grindle, and a helpful map is supplied in true Golden Age tradition. But Grindle isn’t St Mary Mead, but a place where dark and disturbing things are happening. Animals are being mistreated, and then a young girl disappears. The narrator is a young scientist, Dr Doug Swanson, who shares his home with a fellow doctor; their work involves vivisection. Suffice to say that nobody in their right mind would call this book “cosy”. It is very dark by any standards, but especially for the time when it was written. Not one for the faint-hearted, that’s for sure.
The plot is complicated, and a genuine whodunit puzzle is supplied. Mention is made of a very famous real life American murder case, which may have been a source of some inspiration for the device at the heart of the narrative. But this is a book unlike any others of its period that I have read – and it really is memorable. Short, snappy, chilling and clever, it deserves to be much better known.