A. FIELDING – The Net Around Joan Ingilby. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1928. Alfred A. Knopf, US, hardcover, 1928.

   According to a huge amount of research done by John Herrington, [FOOTNOTE] A. Fielding was in reality Dorothy Feilding, who between 1924 and 1938 was the author of 24 detective novels, an absolute terrific pace, with one last book appearing in 1944.

   Her primary character is Chief Inspector Pointer, who did not appear in all of them, and who, on the basis of the two books read so far, does not always appear in the ones he does until a certain distance into the story. He’s from Scotland Yard, and the local police do not always see fit to call in them in right away. (I am hedging here, trying not to tell you more than you should know, and as soon as I tell you that, I know that that’s telling you too much in and of itself.)

   But all digressions aside, let me tell you about this one, which is a doozie and a half, as my mother (or was it my grandmother) used to say. In Chapter One, there’s no detective story or mystery thriller in sight. On board ship, where such chance meetings often take place, just before landing, journalist Martin Blair meets the fairy princess of his dreams, briefly but most magically, yet with no likelihood of ever seeing her again.

   Chapter Two. After fashioning a successful career for himself, Blair comes across a strange but apparently accidental death, that of a woman who took refuge in a shed near a outdoor charcoal burning facility and was later found asphyxiated by the fumes. Investigating further on his own, Blair comes to the conclusion that foul play was involved, and he writes the story up for his newspaper, complete with an all-but-accusation of the guilty party, Miss Joan Ingilby, the missing governess of the dead woman’s child.

   Well, I suppose you know what comes next. Joan Ingilby and his fairy princess are one and the same, and while Blair desperately tries to take back his accusation, his recital of the facts is all too convincing, and Joan must go into hiding while Blair tries to make amends and catch the real killer.

   There may be a “first” involved here. Can you think of any other story in which an accused murderer comes back into the story disguised as her older sister in order to help in the investigation?

   Here’s a description of Joan’s first encounter with Chief Inspector Pointer, taken from page 137:

   Her eyes softly shining, she shook hands with the newcomer; he looked much younger than she had expected, and more distinguished too. As his fingers closed around hers, there flowed through her a sense of his power. A man dangerous to a criminal, was her first thought; a difficult man to deceive. She had a definite impression of a fine, clear, cold intellect, a great personal dignity, and of unusual force of character – force that showed in his quiet manner, in the clean, firm lines of the lean face and figure. In a certain stillness about him that meant vast reserves of strength, physical and mental.

   She tingled with excitement. Would he suspect her? Would he help her? This brown-faced man with the pleasant but very enigmatic grey eyes.

   Pointer will need all the strength that is suggested in this passage. The trail leads to France, and to Marseilles in particular, to a den of iniquity there never seen in the likes of Innes, Christie or Carr. Kidnappings, last minute escapes, recaptures, underground passages and more – unlike anything I have read in more normal fiction in many a day. (Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong stuff. This was great.)

   Not so great, though, were the many lapses in story-telling continuity. In the early going, characters appear only as they are needed, even though they had to have been on the scene all along. One truly remarkable feat of physical genius occurs around page 42. Joan is in Blair’s apartment, coming to plead her case to him after the story he wrote. When a policeman comes to the door, Joan ducks into Blair’s bedroom, unready to give herself up. Fearful of the maid’s impending arrival, Blair tries to distract Police-Inspector Armstrong, to no avail. Two pages later, there is a knock on his outer door. It is Joan, disguised as her sister, ready to confront the law, heavy on her trail. But how? It is never explained.

   There are parts of this tale, however, which concern matters mysterical and are equally amazing, and once explained, may very well take your breath away. It did mine, and for more reasons than one – one being pure audacity, and another – well, you’ll have to read this one for yourself.

   Do I have room for another quote? I think so. From pages 84 and 85, where Pointer is telling Blair something about his philosophy of solving criminal cases:

   â€œYou know, you’re like the writers of these detective stories some people read – I can’t stand the drivel in ’em myself – who want you to suspect everyone near and far. The writers can’t help themselves, I see that, or how could they fill their books; but it’s not true to life! In a real case,” the Inspector went one confidentially, “of course, you look up everybody’s time-table and keep an eye on ’em – but there are some people you’re certain aren’t criminals. You’ve known ’em for years. You can leave ’em on one side – in your own mind. And there are others – well, you know they’re crooked at a glance, and you concentrate on them.”

— April 2004 (revised)

FOOTNOTE:   Most of this research was done after this review was written, and this current first paragraph replaces several earlier ones dealing with what was known about A. Fielding in 2004. Check out this earlier post on this blog, and this review on Curt Evans’ blog, in the course of which he discusses the life of the author in much detail.