Murder Gone Mad by Philip Macdonald is arguably a landmark in the crime genre. Published in 1931, it is, as far as I know, the first Golden Age serial killer novel in which there was no rational motive for the crimes.
Murder strikes in the peaceful town of Holmdale in shocking fashion, when an eleven year old boy called Lionel is stabbed to death. The police receive a message from ^The Butcher” about the crime, and this sets a pattern. A series of young people, male and female, are killed by “The Butcher”, and panic sets in.
One of Macdonald’s regular cops, the Scotland Yard man Arnold Pike, is called in to lead the investigation, but although a passing mention is made of Macdonald’s amateur sleuth Colonel Anthony Gethryn, Gethryn does not play any part in the story.
More than 80 years after this book was published, it’s difficult to judge it fairly. The crimes are shocking, but by modern standards, naturally, the material is tame There is a surprise solution, in terms of the revelation of the culprit’s identity, but this is not a “fair play” mystery, and more seriously, there is no explanation of what caused the psychological collapse that led a seemingly harmless individual to commit such shocking crimes. The book is, then, a historical curiosity which may fail to satisfy most modern readers, but Macdonald was a pioneer in this field, and, for all his faults, he remains one of the more interesting writers of the 30s.