MARY CHALLIS – Crimes Past. Jeremy Locke #1. Raven House, paperback original, 1980.

   Just by coincidence, if you believe in such things, I got a letter from Al Hubin yesterday, and he admits he doesn’t know who “Mary Challis” is, either. (But if there’s anyone else who’d be more sure of ferreting out the truth, I don’t know who it might be.)

   According to the back cover, Mary Challis is the pseudonym of a writer with more than thirty mysteries to her credit. (*) She also lives in London, Ontario, if that helps. If this book is an example of her work, however, 1 think I’ll pass on the thirty others, thank you.

   There are twelve chapters in this book, and I warn you, Chapter 11 is a complete waste of time. I’ve heard of padding before, but this is ridiculous. The culprit is known on page 162 [of 188 total]. One suspects, even eagerly awaits the surprise twist … but … there is none. There is absolutely nothing of importance that happens in the next twenty pages.

   It hadn’t been a particularly gripping story even up to then. It seems that lawyer Jeremy Locke’s brother has returned to England after fourteen years of self-imposed exile. He fled the country when he did to avoid imprisonment on embezzlement charges. No one has ever found the money, and now one of Derek Locke’s old comrades is found murdered.

   Jeremy, who is thirty years old and eight years a lawyer, acts like a gawky, teen-aged kid. With the police; with his guardian and senior partner; with his older brother, when he finally shows up; and with his new girl friend, Lisa Marlowe, who is also the secretary of a mystery writer named Stephen Jackson.

   Mr. Jackson is mentioned once or twice more, but nothing ever comes of it. What a shame. His presence might have done something (anything!) to waken up this sleepy, placid little novel.

Rating: D

–Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 5, No. 2, March/April 1981.


(*) It is now known that Mary Challis was one of several pen names of the author best known as Sara Woods, who before she was done, wrote forty-nine mysteries featuring an English barrister by the name of Antony Maitland. As for the books she wrote as Mary Challis, there were three additional case adventures for Jeremy Locke, all from Raven House, a not very successful line of mystery paperbacks from Harlequin in the 1980s.