Fri 27 Apr 2012
BARBARA WORSLEY-GOUGH – Alibi Innings. Michael Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1954. Penguin 1321, UK, paperback, 1958. No US edition.
There have been other mysteries taking place a cricket background, I’m sure, but I’ve never read any of them. I’m also sure that the game is described well in Alibi Innings, but I don’t know how to play cricket, and after reading this book, I still don’t. Readers in the UK would fare the same, I imagine, reading books in which the game of baseball is played.
But judge for yourself. Here’s an excerpt, from page 63:
The vast complexities of living had no place in this microcosm of white on green under blue. The Burgeon captain sent down an easy one, and he [the Squire] turned round the corner to fine leg. They could have run two, but Randall did not hurry.
It’s an idyllic day on a hot summer afternoon, an annual affair, withe Squire Easton’s team taking on the local villagers. It’s too bad that murder has to spoil it, but although it’s not said, it’s clear that Dr. Randall Curtis found the body of Mrs. Easton before the match began, and he said nothing, not to spoill the Squire’s day.
Mrs. Easton is one of those people about whom no one can say any good, an ill-tempered old woman who delighted in flaunting her power over others. And yet, as the author of Alibi Innings, Barbara Worsley-Gough makes us feel the sadness in her passing as no other mystery writer has done in my recent memory. Strangely enough, no one really minds that she is dead, but — if this makes sense — everyone is disturbed that she is no longer there.
There are only a finite number of suspects, though the inevitable cry goes up that it must have been a tramp or a gypsy. While this is a detective story, as must happen more often than not in real life, all of the mysterious clues and other misleading evidence seem to unravel themselves, rather the need of having a mastermind detective to stand up and take charge. More time is spent repairing some unfortunate marriages that are about to take place, and by the end of the story, everyone seems to be relieved that they are not.
According to Hubin, one of Worsley-Gough’s other novels (and there are eight listed inside the front cover of the Penguin editon) is a mystery (Lantern Hill, 1957), and one of the characters (the Squire’s closest friend, Aloysius Kelly) appears in that one as well. He’s not the detective of record in this one, however, making his flamboyant presence widely known in the first half, but fading away in the second.
This is an old-fashioned mystery, one with characters the reader will identify with, even though they no longer exist, and if they did, perhaps only for the shortest period of time and locale.
February 1991 (slightly revised).
[UPDATE] 04-27-12. Marv Lachman has written a long article in which he discusses many works of detective fiction in which the game of cricket plays a substantial role. You can find it here on the main Mystery*File website. As for me, even though I wrote this review over 20 years ago, I still have no idea how cricket is played. (It’s nothing I’m proud of. It just is.)