THE BACKWARD REVIEWER
William F. Deeck


JONATHAN STAGGE – The Dogs Do Bark. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1937. Popular Library #350, paperback, 1951. Also published as Murder Gone To Earth (Joseph, UK, hardcover, 1936).

   A question is often raised about whether it is worthwhile to spend time and space reviewing a poor novel. Why bother? Well, if nothing else, to warn prospective readers that they may be in for a disappointment. And a disappointment is what The Dogs Do Bark definitely is in this reviewer’s opinion.

   Here ! must flout our distinguished editor’s admonition not to give anything away in a review. How else describe this book’s weaknesses?

   A headless and armless female body is found during a fox hunt in Massachusetts. Since a female is missing from the area, her father, a religious fanatic, is asked to view the presumably naked torso of the corpse and identifies it, more or less, as his daughter, while throwing in some wild religious quotations to prove his fanaticism. Don’t ask me how this zealot was so familiar with his daughter’s naked body. (And the author certainly didn’t want anybody to ask.)

   After the father has viewed the corpse and identified her, more or less, he is then read a description of the body, presumably another author’s ploy so that the authorities can say that she was not virgo intacta, although not pregnant, and thus must either have been married or immoral. The coroner and the doctor — the latter is the amateur detective in the novel — who had been deputized by the sheriff both seem to think that sexual intercourse is the only way that the hymen can be broken, no doubt a fond delusion during the 1930s.

   Later on in the book we are told that the girl identified as the corpse thought she was pregnant. Do the doctor and the sheriff look at one another with wild or even mild surmise? Of course not. The primary reason for the head and arms being removed from the body does not occur to them, either. If it had — and some thought was given to another female’s disappearance, one who looked much like the corpse — the book would have ended at chapter 3 or 4. And what then would have become of the so-much-per-word story?

   The arms are found in the hunting pack’s kennels, stripped to the bone by the dogs. The head is located later elsewhere, kept by the killer for reasons never made clear. The deputy doctor seems to have only one patient, a hypochondriac, so he has plenty of time to blunder around and nearly get himself killed in a had-I-but-known-or-even-given-it-some-thought fashion. He comes close to being burned to death in an old barn by the murderer, and it would have served him right. Once the corpse is correctly identified, a telegram from another police force points out the killer.

   Recommended only to those who have a mild interest in the U.S. fox hunting scene.

— Reprinted from CADS 4, April 1986. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.


Editorial Comment:   I believe but I am not positive that the doctor Bill refers to in this review is Dr. Hugh Westlake, who appeared in all nine of Jonathan Stagge’s detective novels, of which this is the first. (I do not know who the deputy doctor might be.) Stagge was a pseudonym of Richard Wilson Webb, (1901-1970) & Hugh Callingham Wheeler, (1912-1987), who also collaborated on books as by Q. Patrick and Patrick Quentin.