William F. Deeck

R. C. WOODTHORPE – Death Wears a Purple Shirt. Doubleday Crime Club, hardcover, 1934. First published in the UK as Silence of a Purple Shirt, Ivor Nicholson & Watson, hardcover, 1934.

R. C. WOODTHORPE - Death Wears a Purple Shirt

   Nicholas Slade — “an eminent author whose name was known to everybody, though his works, with one exception, were read by nobody” — is asked by his niece to do what he can to free the niece’s estranged husband from a murder charge. The husband is a member of the Purple Shirts, a fascist organization in England, and the man killed is a high-level member of that group who is up to no good.

   Slade is known by one book — the rest being dull satires — The Gods Are Just, which he describes as “an eruption like the pimples on the face of adolescent youth: natural but unpleasant, and best forgotten once they are gone,” and at which he shudders whenever it is mentioned.

   He and his cockney, although he doesn’t talk like one, assistant, Alfred Hicks, who spends most of his time reading the articles in John Bull, go to the scene of the crime. The two of them put up at the Island Hotel, a most extraordinary inn with a most extraordinary staff.

   There is a great deal of humor in this novel, arising both from the circumstances and the characters. The portrayal of the Purple Shirts should be enough to make any fascist organization blush, assuming it was capable of it.

   The publishers say that Nicholas Slade “will inevitably come to occupy a niche in the gallery of immortal detectives of fiction.” Well, we all know what publishers are like, but they had somewhat of a point here. There was, however, only one other novel featuring Slade (ed.–The Necessary Corpse), and two works an immortal do not make.

   Still, the potential certainly existed, and any reader who enjoys the classic mystery with humor and interesting characters should find this well worth seeking out.

— From The Poisoned Pen, Vol. 7, No. 1
(Whole #33), Fall-Winter 1987.

Bio-Bibliographic Data:   As a mystery writer, Ralph Carter Woodthorpe, 1886-?, was the author of eight detective novels published between 1932 and 1940. Two of these featured Nicholas Slade as the leading character, as Bill pointed out; a former schoolmistress named Mathilda Perks appears in another two. One of these was Death in a Little Town, an early eccentric cozy which Bill reviewed in the same issue of Poisoned Pen. Look for here on this blog soon. (He enjoyed it.)