THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


GREGORY DEAN – Murder on Stilts. Hillman-Curl, 1939; Detective Novel Classic No. 17, no date stated [1943].

   There are several things to be sought in a mystery novel. Style, to this reader, is foremost. When the author on page one writes, “He trajected his mind back,” it is a pointer that style will not be found.

GREGORY DEAN Murder on Stilts

   Characterization comes next, and the author fails here, too.

   Finally — though to many readers the most important aspect of a book — comes plot. In this area Dean gives good value for the money, particularly if you actually paid a Quarter for the reprint.

   A good, kindly, thoughtful rich man — most unusual in mystery novels — is murdered in a locked room. Although the murderer’s intent was to have the man’s death appear to be suicide, the murderer botched this aspect rather badly. The rich man was supposed to appear to have shot himself through his blanket while in bed, but there are no powder marks on the blanket.

   The window locks have been wiped clean of fingerprints, as has the safe in the room. Dirty work has obviously been afoot.

   Fourth Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Simon is the investigator here. It is he who deduces murder rather than suicide. He also figures out early on how and who. He doesn’t reveal it, thus being responsible for another murder. At the end of the novel when he finds out why, all is belatedly revealed.

   Unfortunately, the explanation for the murder in the locked room, and a later appearance of the murderer there — while the room again is locked and a policemen is in it — is rather lame.

   This novel will be of interest only to those who collect locked-room puzzles. It also may be of interest to another type of collector, but reviewers’ rules do not allow that information to be divulged.

   (If anyone is curious about the title, which is the only reason I bought the book, the murdered man lived in what was called “the house on stilts,” a dwelling apparently constructed on a concrete arch. I say “apparently” because this is not mentioned in the novel; it is information provided by the paperback publisher.)

From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 9, No. 5, Sept-Oct 1987.



Bibliographic Data: From Bill’s review, it is difficult to imagine that there were additional cases in Commissioner Simon’s career, but it is true. There were two others, as a quick reference to the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin, will immediately show:

DEAN, GREGORY. Pseudonym of Jacob D. Posner, 1883-?
      The Case of Marie Corwin. Covici Friede, hc, 1933. [Dep. Commissioner Benjamin Simon]
      The Case of the Fifth Key. Covici Friede, hc, 1934. [Dep. Commissioner Benjamin Simon]
      Murder on Stilts. Hillman-Curl, hc, 1939. [Dep. Commissioner Benjamin Simon]