JOHN & EMERY BONETT – Dead Lion. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1949. Pocket #738, paperback, 1950. Perennial Library P563, paperback, 1982. White Circle #505, Canada, paperback, 1951. Original UK edition: M. Joseph, hardcover, 1949.


   Not only is this the first case that would-be sleuth Professor Mandrake ever worked on, it’s also the first mystery written by the Bonetts (in real life, John & Felicity Coulson). Subsequent books in which Mandrake appears are A Banner For Pegasus (1951; also known as Not In The Script) and No Grave For A Lady (1960).

   I say “would-be sleuth” in this case, because his attempts at solving the death of renowned (and widely hated) literary critic Cyprian Druse, while helpful, fall resoundingly flat instead. He may fare better in later cases — I hope so — but someone else will have to let us both know, since if I’ve read either one, I’ve forgotten.

   The problem here is that Mandrake is working strictly at cross-purposes with the narrator, Simon Crane, the dead man’s nephew, who is the first person to realize that Cyprian’s death was murder, and not an accident, as the police believe. Crane has fallen in love with Mandrake’s chief suspect, the enigmatic but wholly enchanting Marcia Garnett, and so he does his utmost to keep the other man’s attempts at solving the case as ineffective as possible.

   There is very little deduction involved. Persistence and inevitability is all that it takes to reveal the killer, even though more than half the human race would have had a motive, of sorts. What this is, far more than it is a mystery of the traditional type, is a treatise on love and romance.

   Simon Crane is at once obtuse and knowing, unlikable and irresistible, and a detective like no other on record, I’m sure. There is also a great deal of tragedy and pain involved, and in the end, while justice does work its way out, it brings its share of grief as well.

   It may not be obvious, even by now, so if it isn’t, I’m highly recommending this one.

Rating: A minus.

— This review was intended to appear in Mystery*File 35. It was first published in Deadly Pleasures, Vol. 1, No. 3, Fall 1993 (somewhat revised).

[UPDATE] 10-13-11.   Even though I recommended this one at the time, I don’t remember it at all. (This comes from deliberately trying not to tell too much about the story line back in 1993.)

   That it was reprinted in paperback a couple of times, however, especially later on by Perennial, suggests that my opinion was correct, that Dead Lion is indeed a better than average mystery novel from the 1940s.

   To confirm this, though, I went looking, and I found a second opinion in the first place I looked: 1001 Midnights, with the review coming up next.