William F. Deeck

FRANCIS D. GRIERSON – The Smiling Death. Edward J. Clode, US, hardcover, 1927. First published in the UK: Geoffrey Bles, hardcover, 1927.


   Several times in this novel Inspector Sims and undercover criminologist Professor Wells note that coincidence is not remarkable. I concur. Thus I am not going to express astonishment because two amateur investigators discover a corpse near the police station Inspector Sims and Professor Wells happen to be visiting.

   Or because one of the amateurs falls in love at first sight with a passing horror-stricken face, a face that turns out to belong to the villain’s ward. Or because the other amateur falls in love at first sight with a girl in the street — in, mind you, not of; please pay attention, even if it’s not rewarding — whose father was ruined by the villain and whose restaurant is located in the house previously occupied by the recently discovered dead man.

   Or because one of the villain’s henchmen had his life saved during World War I by one of the amateurs. Or because — I could go on, but I guess you’re convinced by now of my tolerance.

   Since this is a thriller and the author early on discloses the villain’s identity, I take leave to quote:

   One may suspect a clergyman of embezzlement, an actuary of cheating at cards, a retired admiral of stealing his neighbour’s bulbs in the dead of night — but about the trade of a bookseller there is something of the venerable dignity of the first editions he handles, a certain abstraction from the affairs of a hurried world, an innocence in all matters not connected with vellum, calf, fair paper and the variations of type. In all his experience, Sims reflected sardonically, he had never arrested a bookseller.

   This bookseller villain — did some dastard mutter that that’s an oxymoron? — is another Moriarty, without the latter’s vast legions but with the same problem of ineptness and ingratitude on the part of his few minions.

   For those of you who, like me, always wondered what booksellers buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell, it has been revealed here in a novel slightly above Edgar Wallace’s average, with more and better humor than Wallace usually provided.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991.

Editorial Comment: I’d have thought that this to be a detective novel so obscure that not a single trace of it would exist, even on the all-knowing Internet. I’d have thought wrong. Check out John Norris’s review of this very same title over on his blog, along with a list of all of the Inspector Sims & Professor Wells novels. (And, yes, John’s blog is the source of the cover image you see here as well.)