William F. Deeck

R. C. WOODTHORPE – Death in a Little Town. Doubleday Crime, US, hardcover, 1935. First Edition: Ivor Nicholson & Watson, UK, hardcover, 1935.

   A usually enjoyable subgenre of the crime story is the English village setting. This is one of the most delightful of them. Mr. Woodthorpe, in this and other novels, can be compared — but, since comparisons are odious, this reviewer won’t stoop to it — to Robert Barnard in one of his more mellow moods.

R. C. WOODTHORPE Death in a Little Town

   The most hated man in the town in murdered shortly after the villagers have torn down the fence he put across a public right-of-way. The murder is investigated by the local police sergeant, one Whalebone, who is himself an interesting and intelligent character, and by some anonymous individuals from Scotland Yard who deal mostly with paperwork.

   In the novel we meet Miss Mathilda Perks, former schoolmistress, with a blunt tongue and a foul-mouthed and surprisingly bright parrot named Ramsey MacDonald; Miss Perks’ brother Robert, who has a tendency to disrobe on occasion wherever he might happen to be; Daphne Chrystal, a slattern who could give Gracie Allen some pointers in witless conversation; her husband, Walter, who suspects her of infidelity for reasons best known to himself…

   More: Frank Thornhill, a former pupil of Miss Perks, who is of independent means and no particular ambition except maybe to set up a nudist colony; the Rev. William Chandos, whose biggest concerns are neutrality in all things and how to handle the various views in the village about public bathing on Sunday; and Michael Holt, about whom the police say:

    “There’s nothing against him, except that he’s a writer of fiction. Quite a respectable person; doesn’t even write detective stories….”

   A novel well worth trying to find by those inclined to enjoy the English village setting and somewhat eccentric characters. The humor, it should be added, is natural and unforced. The detection, however, does leave something to be desired.

— From The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 7, No. 1
(Whole #33), Fall-Winter 1987.

Bibliographic Update:   Miss Mathilda Perks also appeared in The Shadow on the Downs (1935). Woodthorpe’s other series character, Nicholas Slade, also made two appearances, one of which, Death Wears a Purple Shirt, was also reviewed by Bill Deeck in that same issue of Poisoned Pen. It was posted here earlier on this blog.