Friday, 22 February 2013

Forgotten Book - The Wife of Ronald Sheldon

Another book by Patrick Quentin for today's Forgotten Book. This time, it's The Wife of Ronald Sheldon, also known as My Son, the Murderer - an inferior title for at least two reasons.) It was first published in 1954, by which time Quentin had ceased to be a collaboration - this one was written by Hugh Wheeler alone. There is an interesting discussion about the Quentin/ Q Patrick/Jonathan Stagge writers (over the years, there were four of them) on the Golden Age Detection forum. Apparently Wheeler, and perhaps the others, were gay, and although I'm not sure it's a gay sub-text, the relationship between the narrator, Jake Duluth and his business partner Ronnie Sheldon is central to this story.

Jake and Ronnie are, however, portrayed as resolutely heterosexual, and as it turns out, that is the key to past events which have an impact on the storyline. They run a publishing firm, and Ronnie has a knack of spotting literary geniuses. Ronnie is a rich dilettante, Jake was recently widowed when his wife inexplicably committed suicide, leaving him to bring up Bill, a moody and resentful young man who is also highly impetuous (and rather irritating, I felt.)

Ronnie causes a sensation when he returns from Europe to the States with a new, 19 year old wife, Jean, and her father Basil, his wife Norah, and his admirer, Lady Phyllis Brent. Wheeler was English by birth, but he is merciless in his portrayal of the Lacey mob. Other than Norah, they are quite appalling in various ways. And things go from bad to worse when Jean and Bill fall for each other. When Ronnie is found murdered, Bill is the prime suspect of Lieutenant Barnes (who seems indistinguishable from Quentin's usual cop, Lieutenant Trant.)

Jake tries to find the truth, assisted by brother Peter and his wife Iris, who appeared n several of the earlier Quentin books. The plot is soundly constructed, although I found the solution rather anti-climactic. I'm a great admirer of Quentin, but I felt this wasn't one of his best, in part because most of the characters are so annoying.Nor was I entirely convinced by the way Ronnie's character was developed. All in all, a decent story idea, competently executed, but lacking brilliance.

4 comments:

Sarah said...

I have this book on my shelf along with "The Follower". Your post has intrigued me enough to give the writer a go although perhaps I won't start with this particular book.

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks as ever for the excellent review. That's an interesting background on 'Quentin' too. I'm sorry to hear the book didn't exactly sweep you away, but it does sound like a good story idea. I ought to look up some of these books...

JIM said...

I have a copy of this under the title My Son, The Murderer, but have yet to read it. Detail on the jacket describes it as "a beautifully plotted mystery story in which normal, decent people are entrapped. Good people who have the right reasons for doing the wrong things." Presumably, this is primarily in reference to the character Jake Duluth, though of course, I'm guessing here.

I had planned on reading Quentin's 1956 (or was it also 1954?) title, The Man in the Net next - it seems Francis Iles gave it a favourable review in The Guardian - but your review has convinced me to read this other book first.

Christine said...

The London Library has PUZZLES FOR PILGRIMS and THE ORDEAL OF MRS SNOW AND OTHER STORIES. Would you recommend those, Martin?