LEO BRUCE – Jack on the Gallows Tree. Academy Chicago, paperback; first US edition, May 1983. Hardcover edition: June 1983. British edition: Peter Davies, hardcover, 1960.

LEO BRUCE Jack on the Gallows Tree

   Carolus Deene, history master in an English public school, is recuperating from jaundice at the Royal Hydro in Buddington-on-the-Hill. He encounters the murders of two elderly ladies, each of whom has been strangled and laid out with a madonna lily on her chest.

   It seems that the two deaths must be related, but how? The ladies had not known one another, and had little in common. Deene dips into the mystery, much to the displeasure of his headmaster. At once he is beset by the snobbish elderly cousin of one of the ladies, and by one of his students who is determined to play Watson.

   Along the way he comes across characters who are reminiscent of Edmund Crispin’s books: a farmer whose house pet is an ocelot, an elderly couple who practice both vegetarianism and nudism, two local ladies who vie for the attention of the police and of Deene, and a Miss Shapeley who keeps strong language out of her bar.

   If this is a parody, it is deft enough to be enjoyable as a serious read. Bruce is a pseudonym of the late Rupert Croft-Cooke, who wrote other mysteries under his own name and the Sergeant Beef books under the Bruce cognomen.

� Reprinted from The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 6, No. 4, Fall 1986.

Editorial Comment:  Maryell Cleary, who died in 2003, was an ordained minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church as well a voluminous reader and collector of detective fiction. I met her once while she was taking a trip by car through New England. She stopped here to look at my collection and to go through my duplicates, and of course we spent a long, wonderful afternoon talking about each of our favorite characters and authors.

   Maryell was especially fond of mysteries in the Golden Age tradition. In fact, she had a letter in the same issue of The Poisoned Pen as the one above in which she protested mildly that fans of private eye novels had taken over the pages of recent issues! More coverage, she requested, of authors like Martha Grimes, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Moyes, Charlotte MacLeod, Robert Barnard, Marian Babson, Dorothy Simpson and P. D. James.

   To that end she also wrote many reviews and articles herself for the mystery fanzines of 20 and 30 years ago, including the still late lamented Poisoned Pen, published for many years by Jeff Meyerson. I’ve conferred with Jeff, and we both agree that she would have liked her reviews to go on after her. They will appear here on a regular basis for some time to come — she wrote a lot of them!