HUGH DESMOND – Death Walks in Scarlet. Wright & Brown, UK, hardcover, 1948.

   Superintendent Alan Fraser, the leading detective in Death Walks in Scarlet is, I suspect, about as unknown a character who appeared in over 40 works of crime fiction as there could possibly be. Nor would even the most ardent reader of detective mysteries recognize the name of the author, who wrote several hundred of them — which is only a rough estimate. I didn’t take the time to count.

   In other words, this is my candidate for the most obscure author of the month, although without looking back, I have a feeling there may be some strong contenders. The author’s real name was Kathleen Lindsay, who wrote crime novels under her own name, as Hugh Desmond, Elizabeth Fenton, Nigel MacKenzie and Mary Richmond. In fact one of the Alan Fraser novels was by Nigel MacKenzie. She was so prolific that she has her own Wikipedia page, which begins thusly:

    “Kathleen Lindsay (1903 – 1973), was an English author of romance novels. For some years she held the record as the most prolific novelist in history. According to the Guinness Book of World Records (1986 edition, where they refer to her as “Mary Faulkner”), she wrote 904 books under eleven pseudonyms. This record has since been surpassed.”

   In case you’re wondering, no, I hadn’t heard of her either, before I tried to see if I couldn’t find out more about “Hugh Desmond” and coming up with a whole lot more than I expected.

   I might have guessed that the author was a woman, if I hadn’t done the research mentioned above before I finished the book, but I was leaning that way, since the female characters in the story are all strongly depicted and play such key roles in the mystery. The superintendent’s wife, for example, does more in Death Walks in Scarlet than fix her husband’s supper when he comes home late at night after a long, hard day on the job.

   Nor is she a mere sounding board for his concerns. It is at her suggestion that they go to a dinner party where they meet an invalid woman who is cared for by a trusted servant female and who has recently taken charge of a niece, who has come to live with them after the death of her father in France.

   All strongly depicted characters, but what do they have to do with the gang of burglars who have become the bane of Fraser’s existence, especially once they have added murder to their long list of crimes? Fraser suspects they are former members of British military who, after the war, cannot find non-criminal employment to use their newly obtained talents on, and have thus turned to crime.

   The connection between the two parts of the story is a key one, and even though the novel turns into more of a thriller — one including many deaths and more than one kidnapping — than a puzzle to be solved by pure deduction, it is a suspenseful one, with a twist that I almost but didn’t really see coming. I enjoyed this one.