G. D. H. & M. COLE – The Corpse in the Constable’s Garden.

Collins Crime Club; UK, hardcover; 5th printing, 1933. US edition: Morrow, hardcover, 1931. Hardcover reprint: Grosset & Dunlap, no date (shown). Previously published in the UK 1930 as Corpse in Canonicals, Collins, hardcover, 1930.

COLE Corpse in the Garden

   As was pointed out in both my review of the Coles’ Knife in the Dark and the one Bill Pronzini wrote for 1001 Midnights, which was posted here, most of the mysteries they wrote featured Superintendent Harry Wilson, of New Scotland Yard.

   He appeared in, among others, both their first novel (The Blanchington Tangle, 1923) and their last (Toper’s End, 1942), along with a few short story collections published during World War II and later — up through 1948 or so.

   And as usual for detective stories published during that particular time period, there’s not much said about Wilson’s private life, at least not in this book. The mystery’s the thing — but this is no sober and deliberate drawing room affair, either. It’s amusing, it’s droll, and in more than one scene, if it doesn’t cause out-and-out laughter, more than a few chuckles should result as well.

   There are some hi-jinks with a valuable necklace in the early going, and then the local constable discovers that someone has left a body in his garden. (I don’t think I gave anything away by disclosing this, did I?) The inspector on the scene is shadowed by an overly eager (and equally suspicious) mystery writer who lives nearby, not to mention three undergraduate chums on a walking tour who also decide to give the locals a bit of a helping hand.

   Maybe my sense of humor is different from yours. I’ll quote from page 96, and you can see for yourself:

    “The last book you lent my wife,” said the Colonel, “was about a man who fell in love with a horse. Give me Edgar Wallace.”

    “Don’t pretend to be a fool, Hubert,” said his wife. “You know you said you liked Proust.”

    “I said I liked him in moderation,” said the Colonel. “The trouble was, there wasn’t any moderation.”

   I simply can’t read that without cracking a smile, and I do every time I do. But if I found the previous book a little lax in the denouement, I certainly can’t say the same about this book. There is a closing scene with all of the characters in one room, and one by one Wilson eliminates them, just the way I would have, down to the final two — the only two I’d decided who could have done it — and then to the final culprit — the very same one I’d fingered for the job.

   Is that a recommendation, saying the author’s solution dovetailed in exact precision as yours? Or can you say that if it’s that obvious, it’s can’t be any good? I’m leaning toward the former, since it wasn’t obvious, and if it had been the other fellow, and I wasn’t at all sure it wasn’t, I’d have been caught flat-footed. As I almost always am.

   It’s sure a nice feeling when you get it right, though!

— February 2003.