Anthony Berkeley’s famous book Malice Aforethought, with its sardonic account of a murderer’s misadventures, influenced a number of other authors, including Bruce Hamilton, whose Middle Class Murder appeared in 1936. It was known in the US as Dead Reckoning, and it’s my Forgotten Book for today.
I’m surprised that it isn’t better known, and hasn’t been reprinted more often, since it’s an accomplished and highly readable book of its type. Not as ground-breaking as Berkeley’s classic, for sure, but still genuinely entertaining. Perhaps its lack of fame owes something to the sporadic nature of Bruce Hamilton’s crime writing career. He wrote just seven mystery novels in the space of 28 years.
The story opens brilliantly, with dentist Tim Kennedy composing a fake suicide note from his disabled wife Esther. Is it a coincidence that the protagonist bears the same surname as Milward, another of Berkeley’s followers, or that the names of Berkeley and Cox (Berkeley’s real name) also feature in the story? I rather doubt it – I suspect Hamilton was giving a nod to a couple of fellow writers whom he admired, though I’m not sure whether they were friends of his.
Kennedy’s plot to kill Esther is bedevilled by all kinds of snags, but he refuses to give up, and eventually she dies. Not only is Kennedy not a suspect – he earns the sympathy of family and friends, and is free to pursue his interest in an attractive local woman. But of course, the course of murder in a book like this never runs smooth...
I really enjoyed this book the first time I read it, and enjoyed it again on a recent re-reading. It isn’t easy to find, but let’s hope someone reprints it before too long. Hamilton does not deserve to be forgotten, and nor does this book.