Fri 9 Sep 2011
William F. Deeck
C. ST. JOHN SPRIGG – Death of an Airman. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1935. First published in the UK: Hutchinson, hardcover, 1934.
Fortunate it is for the minions of the law that Edwin Marriott, Bishop of Cootamundra, Australia, is in England on leave and wants to learn how to fly. For it is he who spots an anomaly when the flight school’s principal instructor expires after his plane crash: rigor mortis never sets in.
A delayed post-mortem uncovers a bullet wound in the dead man’s head. It can’t be suicide. It also cannot be murder since the pilot was flying alone and no other plane was seen in the area.
Scotland Yard Inspector Bernard Bray, one of Sprigg’s continuing characters, is called in to assist in the investigation. Even he can’t puzzle out the absence of rigor in the corpse, though he does get on the trail of drug smugglers and peddlers (yes, young people, like sex, this was not something invented in your generation).
With the help of the Bishop, Bray and the locals break up the drug ring and finally figure out how the deceased pilot met his fate in an entertaining novel that provides some interesting information about the early days of flying.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: [Taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin.]
SPRIGG, C(hristopher) ST. JOHN. 1907-1937.
Crime in Kensington (n.) Eldon 1933 [Insp. Bernard Bray; Charles Venables] US title: Pass the Body. Dial, 1933.
Fatality in Fleet Street (n.) Eldon 1933 [Charles Venables] No US edition.
Death of an Airman (n.) Hutchinson 1934 [Insp. Bernard Bray]
The Perfect Alibi (n.) Eldon 1934 [Charles Venables; Insp. Bernard Bray]
The Corpse with the Sunburnt Face (n.) Nelson 1935. US title: The Corpse with the Sunburned Face. Doubleday, 1935.
Death of a Queen (n.) Nelson 1935 [Charles Venables] No US edition.
The Six Queer Things (n.) Jenkins 1937.
Editorial Comments: There is a longer biography of Sprigg on the Golden Age of Detection Wiki, along with a photo.
A challenge I might present to you I’m sure I would win is to have you collect all of the books above, or try to. I do not believe you could do it. If you have a collection already, you must have put it together some 40 years ago or more. At one time the US editions of his books were relatively common, but no more, especially in jacket. (The one shown above came from a Sun Dial reprint.)
As to this particular book, I’ve had a copy since forever, but I’ve never read it. I do wish that Bill Deeck had commented on how clever the “impossible crime” aspect was. At the moment, all it is is a tease.