Thu 31 Dec 2009
William F. Deeck
H. F. M. PRESCOTT - Dead and Not Buried. Dodd Mead; US, hardcover, 1938. Constable, UK, hc, 1938. Hardcover reprint: Eyre & Spottiswoode, UK, 1957 (shown). Paperback reprint: Collier Books, US, 1965.
There is no introduction to Old Marshall, the corpse. At the very beginning he has been brutally murdered. The man who did it is unknown to the reader, at least for a while. The woman who watches the murder being committed and who later shields the murderer is Marshall’s wife.
Old Marshall’s corpse disappears, so the police, in the form of Sergeant Tucker, a wise and thoughtful man no longer eager for success, don’t know what has happened to Marshall. Did he just leave the farm or was there foul play?
On a nearby chicken farm live Mark (sometimes Marc) Yorke, moneyed, elegant, and a tad snobbish, and Philipson (first name unknown, which seems to happen frequently in mysteries, at least the ones I read), a shell-shocked sometime artist who is also Quite clumsy, which saves his life on at least two occasions.
Despite the lack of a body, Philipson is suspected of having done away with Marshall. Unfortunately for Philipson, he is suffering from temporary amnesia about what happened the afternoon of Marshall’s death.
The foregoing is a bare description that really does not do justice to this novel. The reader knows who did it fairly early on — a man who has murdered one person and has twice tried to kill another one, but who dog-ears a page in a book “with compunction.”
Prescott has sketched her characters amazingly well, with attention to the small things that bring people alive. Most of them, particularly the vicar, the. vicar’s daughter, Sergeant Tucker, and Mrs. Harker, who cooks for Yorke and Philipson, are people you will enjoy having met.
Prescott wrote no other mystery novels, which is a great pity. Her talent was considerable. For those who like their mystery novels catalogued, I would put this in the English-village and Holy Terror categories.
Bio-Bibliographic Data: As Bill pointed out, this was Ms. Prescott’s only work of crime fiction. Here’s some biographical data about her, taken from the Revised Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin:
PRESCOTT, H(ilda) F(rances) M(argaret). 1896-1972. Educated at Oxford and Manchester; lived in Oxford.
There is considerably more about her to be found on the Internet, however. From her wikipedia page, for example:
“H F M Prescott is best known however for her historical novel The Man on a Donkey. Written in the form of a chronicle, the book tells the story of the Pilgrimage of Grace, a popular rising in protest at the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. Her biography of Mary I of England, Mary Tudor (originally titled Spanish Tudor), which won the James Tait Black Prize in 1941 remains one of the leading works on Mary I’s troubled life and reign and is named by the Encyclopaedia Britannica as the best biography of the monarch.”