Not many writers have had a career lasting as long as the 56 years that British mystery writer E. R. Punshon happened to have. Even so, Nick Fuller, on the pages of his website devoted to Punshon’s detective fiction, calls him “one of the most shamefully neglected writers of detective fiction,” with plots “rivaled only by [those of] John Dickson Carr.”

   He had, Nick goes on to say, the same “gift of conveying atmosphere and setting [and with the same adeptness] at devising clues and situations.” His work are also studies of character, of “the catalyst that drives an ordinary human being to commit the ultimate crime.”

Secrets

   A complete list of Punshon’s mystery fiction in book form will follow Mary’s review of The Bittermeads Mystery, taken from Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. The detective twosome of Inspector Carter and Sergeant Bell appears in some his early books, but the series character who appears most often is Bobby Owen, who, according to Nick, “rises from the rank of police constable (in Information Received, 1933) to Commander of Scotland Yard by the later books.”

   The Bittermeads Mystery is a stand-alone, however. Robert Dunn appeared in this book and no other.        – Steve


E. R. PUNSHON - The Bittermeads Mystery

Knopf, hc, 1922. [No British edition?]

   The Bittermeads Mystery gets off to a lively start with protagonist Robert Dunn eluding pursuit after a donnybrook (or should I say a Dunnybrook?) with a man he was following through a wood.

   Dunn continues his nocturnal activities by sloping along to Bittermeads, the titular house, where he finds a burglary in progress. Seizing the day, or rather the night, Dunn knocks the burglar out and after exchanging clothing with the unconscious man (subsequently concealed on the village common opposite the house) he enters the dwelling hoping to be discovered.

   An unusual ambition, you may say, but since a burglar is a shady sort he hopes to be invited to join the murky band associated with Bittermeads. His reasoning is he will not be turned him over to the police as the residents don’t want attention drawn to the house. In this way he hopes to find out what has happened to his old chum Charley Wright, who was romantically involved with Ella Cayley, the daughter of the house, but has disappeared. (He has another reason for his interest in joining the enemy camp, but it is not revealed until some way into the narrative.)

   The only people at home are Ella and her ailing mother and after tying Ella up and promising not to disturb her mother, Dunn explores the house – only to find the murdered Charley in a packing case in an attic.

   Ella’s stepfather, Deede Dawson, returns home and nabs Dunn but decides to employ him as chauffeur and gardener – not an action one would expect of an honest man. Dunn’s first task is to finish nailing down the lid of the packing case without revealing he knows what is in it. But then Ella takes the packing case away in a car, thus removing the only evidence he can produce to launch a police investigation.

   Then there is another murder as the plot thickens up in satisfactory fashion.

   My verdict: The two matters Dunn is investigating have no immediate apparent link but ultimately are shown to be intertwined. Although the close reader may well deduce a certain hidden identity and the name of the person masterminding the mayhem, it will likely not be until fairly late in the book.

   The action gallops along and we have an unusual look at the romantic agony of a male protagonist as well as his internal musings as the plot develops. Although it is a fast, light read there are noir underpinnings and the whole is resolved with a satisfactory comeuppance for the egregious villain of the piece.

   Etext: http://www.geocities.com/hacklehorn/punshon/index.html

         Mary R
http//home.epix.net/~maywrite/


BIBLIOGRAPHY [British editions only, unless retitled in the US; all covers shown are those of the US editions, however.] –

PUNSHON, E(rnest) R(obertson) (1872-1956); see pseudonym Robertson Halket

* Earth’s Great Lord (n.) Ward 1901 [Australia]
* -Constance West (n.) Lane 1905 [England]
* The Mystery of Lady Isobel (n.) Hurst 1907 [England]
* The Choice (n.) Ward 1908 [England]
* The Spin of the Coin (n.) Hurst 1908 [England]
* The Glittering Desire (n.) Ward 1910 [England]
* Hidden Lives (n.) Ward 1913 [England]
* -The Crowning Glory (n.) Hodder 1914 [England]
* Arrows of Chance (n.) Ward 1917 [England]
* The Miser Earl (n.) Newnes 1917
* The Solitary House (n.) Ward 1919 [England]
* The Woman’s Footprint (n.) Hodder 1919 [England]
* The Ruby Bracelet (n.) Newnes 1920 [England]
* The Bittermeads Mystery (n.) Knopf 1922 [England]
* Dunslow (n.) Ward 1922 [England]
* The Blue John Diamond (n.) Clode 1929 [England]
* The Unexpected Legacy (n.) Benn 1929 [Insp. Carter; Sgt. Bell; England]
* The Cottage Murder (n.) Benn 1931 [Insp. Carter; Sgt. Bell; England]
* Proof, Counter Proof (n.) Benn 1931 [Insp. Carter; Sgt. Bell; England]
* Genius in Murder (n.) Benn 1932 [Insp. Carter; Sgt. Bell; England]
* Truth Came Out (n.) Benn 1932 [Insp. Carter; Sgt. Bell; England]
* Information Received (n.) Benn 1933 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Crossword Murder (n.) Knopf 1934; See: Crossword Mystery (Gollancz 1934).
* Crossword Mystery (n.) Gollancz 1934 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Death Among the Sunbathers (n.) Benn 1934 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Mystery Villa (n.) Gollancz 1934 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Death Comes to Cambers (n.) Gollancz 1935 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Death of a Beauty Queen (n.) Gollancz 1935 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Bath Mysteries (n.) Gollancz 1936 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; London]
* The Dusky Hour (n.) Gollancz 1937 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Mystery of Mr. Jessop (n.) Gollancz 1937 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Comes a Stranger (n.) Gollancz 1938 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Death of a Tyrant (n.) Hillman-Curl 1938; See: Dictator’s Way (Gollancz 1938).

Tyrant

* Dictator’s Way (n.) Gollancz 1938 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Murder Abroad (n.) Gollancz 1939 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; France]
* Suspects-Nine (n.) Gollancz 1939 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Four Strange Women (n.) Gollancz 1940 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Dark Garden (n.) Gollancz 1941 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Death in the Chalkpits (n.) Mystery Novel of the Month 1941; See: The Dusky Hour (Gollancz 1937).
* Ten Star Clues (n.) Gollancz 1941 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Bathtub Murder Case (n.) Detective Novel Classics 1942; See: The Bath Mysteries (Gollancz 1936).
* Diabolic Candelabra (n.) Gollancz 1942 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Conqueror Inn (n.) Gollancz 1943 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]

Inn

* Night’s Cloak (n.) Gollancz 1944 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Secrets Can’t Be Kept (n.) Gollancz 1944 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* There’s a Reason for Everything (n.) Gollancz 1945 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* It Might Lead Anywhere (n.) Gollancz 1946 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Helen Passes By (n.) Gollancz 1947 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The House of Godwinsson (n.) Gollancz 1948 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Music Tells All (n.) Gollancz 1948 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; Sgt. Bell; England]
* So Many Doors (n.) Gollancz 1949 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Everybody Always Tells (n.) Gollancz 1950 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Golden Dagger (n.) Gollancz 1951 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Secret Search (n.) Gollancz 1951 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* The Attending Truth (n.) Gollancz 1952 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Strange Ending (n.) Gollancz 1953 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Brought to Light (n.) Gollancz 1954 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Dark Is the Clue (n.) Gollancz 1955 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Triple Quest (n.) Gollancz 1955 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]
* Six Were Present (n.) Gollancz 1956 [Det. Sgt. Bobby Owen; England]

HALKET, ROBERTSON; pseudonym of E. R. Punshon, (1872-1956)

* Where Every Prospect Pleases (Benn, 1933, hc) [France]
* Documentary Evidence (Nicholson, 1936, hc) [England]


      —

   Mary Reed and Eric Mayer are in the process of compiling an online directory of all freely available etexts of mystery fiction published during the Golden Age of Detection. If you know of any they’ve missed, additions are extremely welcome.