JOHN PENN – A Deadly Sickness.

Bantam, reprint paperback; 1st printing, Nov 1986. Hardcover edition: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1985. UK first edition: Collins Crime Club, hc, 1985.


   There is a type of British detective story I read and greatly enjoy, and I’d have to say that Agatha Christie represents it best.

   It’s an old-fashioned sort of story, one seldom taking place in London, but rather in one of the many villages England seems to be endlessly populated with. The police may take part, but the primary focus is often on other main characters, all of whom are more or less involved with the mystery, some more than others.

   And so, I have discovered John Penn. Everything I said above seems to apply. The first case Detective Superintendent Thorne and Sergeant Abbot worked on together seems to have been A Will to Kill, also recently published by Bantam. As in this one, a young girl is the key figure, and the same local doctor makes an appearance in each.

   In fact he is more of a main character in this one, as the police make only a late and mostly routine appearance in finally solving the death of the wealthy Sir Oliver Poston. The identity of the killer is unknown to the reader, of course, but what’s also a mystery, for a while, is what actually happened after his heir’s drunken accident on the occasion of his 40th birthday, preceding the death of his father. (Of the whole crowd, only the young girl mentioned above seems not to know.)

   As I am aware that most of you are completely capable of reading between the lines, I have probably said too much already. For that reason, I liked A Will to Kill more, but sometimes even when you know what’s going to happen, it’s fascinating to watch well-developed characters as they go through their paces.

— From Mystery.File 1, January 1987 (heavily revised).

[UPDATE] 11-24-08.  By some strange coincidence, when I used my computer to check the date just now, it also told me the time, which was exactly 11:24. I think this may be the day I should buy a whole stack of lottery tickets!

    When I wrote this review, over 20 years ago, I was rather down on British mystery and thriller fiction. How do I know? I deleted the first two paragraphs, neither of which do you see here, nor will you ever see them.


    I’ve changed my mind about British detective stories in the meantime. Maybe I’ve slowed down and I enjoy the pace of the older “humdrums” (of which category I do not consider the above to be an example) a lot more than I did when I was younger, but the glitz and glamour of present-day London and other larger cities, with all of their problems with the younger generation and immigrant populations, holds a lot of interest for me as well.

    I believe what remains of the review reads smoothly enough. Enough time has elapsed enough since I wrote it that I cannot tell you, however, whether the doctor figure that I mentioned was the same person, or if I meant to use him as a generic character.

    “John Penn,” and I did not know this when I wrote the review, was the joint pseudonym of Paula Harcourt and John H. Trotman. The latter did not write any mystery fiction of his own, but the former, who died in 1999, has a list of over 20 books to her individual credit in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV, mostly of the espionage thriller variety, from what I can deduce from their titles.

    From CFIV then, here’s a list of all of John Penn’s work. Series characters: GT = Insp. (Supt.) George Thorne; DT = Chief Insp. (Supt.) Dick Tansey. (Most of the Tansey books have never been published in the US.)

* Notice of Death (n.) Collins 1982
* Deceitful Death (n.) Collins 1983
* A Will to Kill (n.) Collins 1983. GT
* Mortal Term (n.) Collins 1984. GT


* A Deadly Sickness (n.) Collins 1985. GT
* Barren Revenge (n.) Collins 1986. GT
* Unto the Grave (n.) Collins 1986. GT
* Accident Prone (n.) Collins 1987. GT
* Outrageous Exposures (n.) Collins 1988. DT


* A Feast of Death (n.) Collins 1989. DT
* A Killing to Hide (n.) Collins 1990. DT
* Death’s Long Shadow (n.) Collins 1991. DT
* A Knife Ill-Used (n.) Collins 1991. DT
* A Legacy of Death (n.) Collins 1992. DT
* A Haven of Danger (n.) Collins 1993. DT
* Widow’s End (n.) Collins 1993. DT
* The Guilty Party (n.) Collins 1994. DT
* So Many Steps to Death (n.) Collins 1995. DT
* Bridal Shroud (n.) Collins 1996. DT


* Sterner Stuff (n.) Collins 1997. DT