LESLIE FORD The Clue of the Judas Tree

LESLIE FORD — The Clue of the Judas Tree. Dell #61, mapback edition, no date [1944]. First published by Farrar & Rinehart, hardcover, 1933. Also reprinted several times by Popular Library in the 1950s and 60s.

    In several ways it’s hard to believe this book was written almost fifty years ago. The writing is remarkably fresh and relevant, even if the characters and the setting are out of the pages of history, if not history books, per se.

    For example, the Crash of Wall Street in 1929 is still very much on everyone’s mind when it comes to matters financial, and the person who is the immediate suspect when financier Duncan Trent is found murdered is a shell-shock victim of World War I.

    “Psychology” is an important ingredient in this early cross between a gothicky novel overwhelmed with apprehension and a strictly-playing-it-by-the-clues detective story, and so is romance.

    The ending is unusually cluttered, but then perhaps it had to be to explain away all that had happened. Dashiell Hammett, one suspects, would not have had patience with a story like this, nor with the sort of fantasy world it takes place in, but it’s a branch of the detective novel that certainly seemed to blossom about the same time as The Maltese Falcon. This book is not still in print, but it could be — and its descendants, either direct or indirect, certainly are.

Rating:   B minus

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 6, No. 3, May-June 1982 (slightly revised).

[UPDATE] 11-06-13.   I do not remember reading this book at all. I have only this review to remind me that at one time I did. I see that I did not mention the detective of record, one Lt. Joe Kelly, who also appeared in Murder in Maryland (Farrar, 1932). Ford’s most frequently used series characters, Grace Latham and Colonel John Primrose, did not begin their fictional careers until 1937.