R. A. J. WALLING – The Corpse with the Dirty Face. Morrow, hardcover, 1936. UK edition; Hodder & Stoughton, hc, 1936.

R. A. J. WALLING Corpse with Dirty Face

   Upon first inspection the black markings smeared across the victim’s face appear to be huge inkstains sustained during the act of murder. Later it’s learned that they were permanently disfiguring powder burns the dead man received during the war — World War I, that would have been.

   They’re still important enough as a factor in solving the murder to give the case its title, and a good deal of diligent detective work is needed to unravel the maze of conflicting alibis that bars the way. Also needed is an explanation for the several uncharacteristic changes of plan the victim made for the evening during the crucial time just before his death.

   On the scene from very nearly the beginning is Mr. Tolefree, a private detective of the “softboiled” English butler variety. The only character to display real signs of life is the dead man’s daughter, determined not to let her loved one be accused of the crime.

   It takes a strenuous grip on a great number of assorted facts to solve the puzzle before Mr. Tolefree does, and even so I question the fairness of one of the essential clues. Making up for it is a solidly constructed piece of misdirection at one point, and equally pleasing was a bit of unexpected subtlety in the prologue. Even with the portentous warning Walling gives the reader in the very first paragraph, it goes unnoticed very easily. On the whole, nicely done.

   A good movie it wouldn’t make, however. Too many shots of heads, doing nothing but talking.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 3, No. 6, Nov-Dec 1979.

[UPDATE] 03-20-11.   This, of course, is the review I promised as a follow-up to Geoff Bradley’s review of an earlier Walling mystery, which produced a lot of comments, mostly neutral (ho-hum) to negative. This one I liked, though, in spite of all the flaws I found and pointed out. Whether I’d feel the same way, today, I cannot tell you, nor have I read another by Walling since.

   Coming up next: Bill Pronzini’s 1001 Midnights review of the same author’s Marooned with Murder. Be warned. He did not like it, and he is willing to tell you why.