William F. Deeck

GEORGE A. BIRMINGHAM – The Hymn Tune Mystery. Metheun, UK, hardcover, 1930; Bobbs Merrill, US, hardcover, 1931.

   As the Dean of Carminster Cathedral is seeking solace in the Cathedral from his daughter’s harassment, the not-abstemious organist is playing, and playing well. Then the drink apparently catches up with him, and he collapses head first on the keyboard. Or so the Dean supposes, until it is discovered that the organist had fallen backwards, struck his head, and died from a heart attack.

   Feeling guilty and suspected of becoming senile by his daughter and the Archdeacon, the Dean takes to his bed, otherwise the inquest might have had a different outcome. But things begin to heat up when the representative (Special) of the Harpsichord Company arrives seeking a musical manuscript that doesn’t appear to exist, and when the organist’s girlfriend, described by the Dean’s butler as “a young person” — and we know what that means — ostensibly comes hunting the letters she wrote to the organist.

   Fortunately, the young precentor, the Rev. John Dennis, is somewhat alert and not a respecter of authority. He aids the police and breaks the musical cryptogram in a delightfully amusing novel.

— Reprinted from MYSTERY READERS JOURNAL, Vol. 6, No. 1, Spring 1990, “Musical Mysteries.”

Bibliographic Notes:   George Birmingham was the pen name of James Owen Hannay, (1865-1950), and the author of 19 books and story collections listed in Crime Fiction IV, by Allen J. Hubin. Many of these are indicated as only borderline criminous, however.

   In Catalogue of Crime, Barzun and Taylor describe this book as “a delight” with “intelligence, humor, character and prose in equipoise,” with Inspector Smallways eventually taking over the case, apparently his only appearance in print.

   Another book, Wild Justice, they describe as a “straightforward English country house murder,” even though they hasten to point out that it actually takes place in Ireland.

Editorial Thanks:   You may have noticed that Bill Deeck’s reviews are back. I’d run out of my own supply of them, but thanks to Richard Moore, who has provided me hard copies of pages from his stack of back issues of Mystery Readers Journal; and especially to Janet Rudolph, editor and publisher of MRJ for 30 years now, who has given me permission to reprint Bill’s reviews from her zine, which I highly recommend to you (see the link above), I’m sure I’m supplied now through the end of this year.