William F. Deeck

JAMES CORBETT – Gallows Wait. Herbert Jenkins, UK, hardcover, 1947. No US edition.

   Detective-Inspector Cranston has recently finished testifying at the trial of a man accused of murdering his girlfriend. Cranston has told the court that the woman was strangled and that there were no fingerprints on the body. He deduces that the murderer used gloves. Not a great deduction, or a good deduction, or even a quick deduction, but it’s the most sensible deduction he makes in this novel.

   Of course, later on he says the murderer had strangled the girl … with his bare hands,” but neither Corbett nor his characters let blatant contradictions bother them.

   As the judge in the trial is about to place upon his head the black cloth and pass sentence, he dies, having apparently ingested poison a few minutes before. Luckily, at !east in the author’s view, Cranston is still in the courtroom, for no particular reason but then many things happen in Corbett’s novels for no particular reason.

   Cranston investigates and finds a blackmail letter, unopened, in the judge’s overcoat pocket. With the letter is a miniature dagger. Since he finds another miniature dagger in the judge’s chambers, Cranston deduces that there was a previous letter. Good thinking? Well, the letter Cranston discovers refers to a previous letter, so perhaps Cranston was cheating a bit.

   This is not one of Corbett’s wonderfully awful novels, bad as it is, but it does have some of the patented Corbett touches. For example, Cranston lights a cigarette with a match and stands twisting the spent match. Then he puts his lighter back in his pocket.

   Cranston suspects one man may be the major villain. There’s no reason for this except the man is the only character who could be the bad guy. Cranston arranges for his sergeant to interview an old lady who may have some information about a hit-and-run victim and makes sure that the suspected villain is aware of this forthcoming questioning.

   Cranston’s theory is that the villain will waylay the sergeant, and he, Cranston, will come “in the good old nick of time” and effect a rescue. Not having Cranston’s devious mind, the villain and his henchmen simply kidnap the woman.

   One more example of Corbett’s thrillers that don’t but that do amuse, albeit unintentionally.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.

Editorial Note: Previous Corbett thrillers reviewed by Bill on this blog are Vampires of the Skies and Murder While You Wait. (Follow the links also for much more commentary on Corbett.)