William F. Deeck

G. M. WILSON – I Was Murdered. Robert Hale, UK, hardcover. Walker, US, hardcover, 1961.

G. M. WILSON I Was Murdered

   Unlike one person who shall remain nameless, I have no objection to the supernatural in mystery stories as long as the author presents the occult persuasively. Wilson’s spook fits that demand, even unto the spirit’s shedding of good sense along with the removal of its physical shell.

   Miss Purdy, maiden lady in her mid-50s, has been writing detective stories for 30 years. Seeking an out-of-the-way country place in which to begin her new novel, she ends up at Waterside Cottage in Norfolk.

   Unfortunately, it is already occupied — by the ghost of Lilian Kemp, seemingly accidentally drowned in Liddon broad behind the cottage. The ghost takes over Miss Purdy’s mind temporarily and dictates, “I was murdered.”

   In her attempts to see that justice is done so that Kemp’s spirit may be put at rest, Miss Purdy stirs up things. Another drowning in the broad occurs, this time definitely murder.

   While the haunt is persuasive, the author’s characterization of Miss Purdy won’t fool you: Miss Purdy has never written a detective story, nor seemingly read one. As proof, the murderer is evident to anyone with merely a minuscule knowledge of the genre, but Miss Purdy has no suspicions.

   Worse, the murderer calls Miss Purdy and tells her that there has been a dramatic development in the case and that she should meet the caller at dead of night in a deserted spot without letting anyone know of the meeting. With no hesitation she proceeds to do so. Now, I ask you: Would that be the behavior of an experienced mystery novelist? That is to say, other than James Corbett?

   Wilson, I gather, wrote additional novels with a supernatural background, most of them featuring Inspector Lovick, who stolidly does not believe in the occult and, since he also does not spot the murderer, is obviously inept.

   While Wilson doesn’t construct a tenable plot, she does write well and holds one’s attention.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 12, No. 4, Fall 1990.

Editorial Comments: (1) I do not know whom Bill was referring to in the first paragraph. It might have been any number of people at the time, including myself. I’m not as much of a purist as I used to be, but a lot of attempts to mix the paranormal with the detective story fall as flat to me as the proverbial flapjack.

(2) As Bill hints at and so stated by one blogger, G. M. Wilson may have been one of the first mystery writers to have combined the Mystery Story with Ghosts. Since her first book was published in 1948 (a non-Lovick), the claim seems unlikely, but if you’re so inclined, it does suggest her books may be worth tracking down.

(3) James Corbett was a particularly inept mystery writer whose work Bill was particularly fond of. But sentences like this one ought to be sign of genius, rather than a lack of skill with pen to paper, shouldn’t it? “She was visibly excited, yet not a vestige of her features betrayed her.” Follow this link for more of Deeck on Corbett.

(4) The author’s initials stood for the rather prosaic Gertrude Mary. I Was Murdered was the only one of her two dozen mysteries to be published in the US. Inspector Lovick appeared in 21 of them, and of those, Miss Purdy was on hand in twelve. Bill didn’t make much mention of Lovick, and then only disparagingly. Nonetheless, I’d like to try my hand at one, and if possible, sooner rather than later.