P. R. SHORE – The Bolt.   E. P. Dutton, US, hardcover, 1929. Methuen, UK, hardcover, 1929.

P. R. SHORE The Bolt

   This long forgotten mystery novel was published in England and the United States in 1929. In the latter country it was published by E. P. Dutton, who at this time published several British mysteries with excellent endpaper maps.

   I have no idea whether these maps originated with the original English editions, having never seen the original English editions, but I plan to review all such Dutton mysteries that have come into my purview. I start with The Bolt.

   The author of The Bolt evidently was a man, Peter Redcliffe Shore. He is said to have been born in 1892 and to have authored one other detective novel, 1932’s The Death Film (about a slaying in a theater). That is the sum total of my knowledge of this author.

   I originally had assumed the author was a woman, because the tale is one of those English village “cozies” and it is narrated by a female character, a thirty-nine year old “spinster,” one Marion Leslie. Given that the author was truly a man I am impressed with his ability to carry off this character.

P. R. SHORE The Bolt

   The first fifth of the novel is given over to setting up its murder, and this part is effectively done. The village of Ringshall comes equipped with a Manor and a pub, The Lady & Hare, as well as a Squire, his nineteen-year-old daughter, his unpopular new wife, an eligible bachelor curate, the daughter’s boyfriend (a relative of Miss Leslie’s), a designing female of uncertain reputation, and assorted rustics, including a maid at the Manor House and her ambitious laboring boyfriend, a village witch and her “idiot” son. Oh, and the assorted gossiping ladies of the village.

   This part of the book is done so well, that it is almost a disappointment when comes murder (of the Squire’s wife during the day of the village fair, by means of a rifle equipped with a flint arrowhead, or “elf-bolt,” as the superstitious locals call it).

   Of the Squire’s wife maddening propensity to interfere with and dictate all aspects of village life (which includes patronizing the poor with dubious benevolence), the narrator amusingly notes: “She was the only person I’ve ever known who really bought those bundles of haircloth flannel and shoddy serge which certain shops advertise as ‘suitable for charity’ — which I suppose they are, if you take Mrs. Ward’s view of charity.” (I assume this is a reference to the popular Victorian novelist Mrs. Humphry Ward?)

   No one in Ringshall could stand the Squire’s wife, but several villagers had especial reason to dislike her. Could one of these people have done the deed, or was it someone from her past?

P. R. SHORE The Bolt

   Although professional detectives pop in and out, most of the work is done by Miss Leslie and her friend the curate. The solution finally comes by means of some hidden papers, but the reader is given a chance to put most of it together herself.

   The solution is good enough, though it is not cut to a multi-faceted, Christie-like brilliance. However, I have to wonder whether this novel might have influenced Agatha Christie’s The Murder at the Vicarage, which was published the following year. The village setting is certainly similar, as is the central situation of a locally prominent man, his second wife and his young adult daughter (though in the Christie novel it is the husband, not the wife, who is murdered).

   The Bolt also resembles John Dickson Carr’s Till Death Do Us Part, which involves rifle ranges and murder during a village fair. Though it is not as clever as either of those classic English detective novels, The Bolt is worth reading for lovers of traditional village mysteries.

Editorial Comments:   This book was listed by Curt in his recent list of Forty Favorites from the Twenties, which you can go back and read here. As it was one of the more obscure ones he chose, I was delighted when he offered to send a review of it.

   As for the author, all that Al Hubin adds that Curt did not is that Shore was “born in Hampton; educated privately and at Oxford; educator; living in Somerset in 1930s.” His second book was published by Metheun in 1932 and never appeared in the US. There are, unfortunately, no copies of either book currently offered for sale on the Internet.

[UPDATE] 10-17-10.   Curt provided the image of the book’s endpapers, but his copy lacked a dust jacket. From Bill Pronzini’s collection, however, comes cover images of both of Shore’s two mysteries, those which you now see above. Thanks, Bill!

[UPDATE #2] 10-18-10.   What do you know? It turns out Curt was right all along. Check out his statement at the beginning of paragraph four, in which he says his original assumption was that P. R. Shore was female.

   Which she was. Thanks to the combined detective work of Jamie Sturgeon, Al Hubin and Steve Holland, it’s been discovered that the name “Peter Redcliffe Shore” was total fiction. The author of The Bolt is now identified as Helen Madeline Leys, 1892-1965, who also wrote ghost stories as Eleanor Scott. Randalls Round, a highly regarded collection of these tales, was recently published by Ash-Tree Press (1996) in a limited hardcover edition

   Congratulations to all for coming up with this. Good work!