William F. Deeck

RUSSELL THORNDIKE – The Slype. Dial Press, hardcover, 1928. First published in the UK: Holden, hardcover, 1927. Also: Jonathan Cape, UK, 1933.


   Forget about the plot in this thriller, which must have creaked even in the ’20s and which Thorndike does not energize or even, I must confide, make much sense of at the end.

   It has to do with a treasure hunt by a flagitious doctor of medicine who is featureless and a Chinese villain who in his brief appearance manifests great charm despite his lust for the heroine and despite his vile antecedents and even viler predilections.

   Most of the events take place in the fascinating Dullchester Cathedral. In the Precincts strange disappearances are occurring. A Minor Canon vanishes, followed shortly by a second Minor Canon. Then the spinster bee lady, complete with veil, is found missing, if that makes any sense. Soon the Dean, a speckled pig — the rest of the sty goes later — and a wind-up toy cannot be located.

   As I said, the plot is not the reason to read this novel; it should be read for Thorndike’s descriptive ability and his characters. Foremost among them are Sergeant Wurren of the Dullchester Constabulary as he goes about his bumbling investigations and ludicrous questioning, and Wurren’s nemesis, Boyce’s Boy — you know, the lad who delivers for the greengrocer — a most extraordinarily intelligent and amusing imp. These two, and some minor characters, are worthy of being compared to Dickens’s creations.

   First-class entertainment if you aren’t a plot person.

   By the way, a slype is a covered passage, especially one from the transept of a cathedral to the chapter house.

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

Editorial Comments:   Thank goodness, I thought when I read it, Bill added that last parenthetical paragraph. I had no idea what a “slype” was, and I still wonder what it has to do with the story. I will have to read the book. It sounds terrific.

   Bill also used the word “flagitious” in his review. Neither my spellchecker nor I remembered ever having seen the word before, so I had to look it up. It means “criminal” or “villainous.” I love learning new words, especially those I can now use in my own reviews.

   Of the author of this book, Russell Thorndike, I know nothing, except that he also wrote seven books of the adventures of smuggler-hero Dr. Syn, none of which I’ve read, nor I have I seen the Disney TV miniseries The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh, based on the first of them.