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Thursday, 2 October 2014

‘Fatality in Fleet Street’ by Christopher St John Sprigg



 Published by Oleander Press.
(First Published 1933) 
ISBN: 978-1-0909-34975-9

This book has long been out of print but Oleander Press have reprinted it in their London Bound series.  The book, though published in 1933, is set in Autumn 1938 so the author is able to imagine events and political characters for 5 years ahead.  He postulates the possibility of war but against Russia not Nazi Germany (presumably not quite in existence when he was writing).    He suggests that Lord Carpenter is a Press baron of such power that he has manipulated news over a year to develop opinion to the edge of war and, as the book opens, is about to report an atrocity that will precipitate Britain into war against Russia.  He further postulates a law having been passed that prevents criticism of Foreign Policy on the radio.

The murder of the aforesaid Press baron is the centre of the story.  Since he is an unpleasant bully and a womaniser there are many suspects.  Charles Venables, the Crime correspondent of the paper, the Mercury, pursues a parallel investigation to that of the police.  At first the various newspaper reporters and other workers are a little difficult to differentiate but the story is an engrossing one which soon makes them clear.  It is a successful detective story with many of the features of others of that era - a gnomic Chinese who uses homely Confucian-style aphorisms, a damsel in distress, a detective who uses a monocle and a Bolshevist cell full of argumentative Slavs in London.  A book that is well worth reprinting.
The writer also wrote serious political books as Christopher Caudwell.  His obscurity to modern readers could be because he wrote only a small number of books and because he was killed in the Spanish Civil War at the age of 29.  At the moment none of his other detective stories are in print.
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Reviewer: Jennifer S Palmer

Christopher St John Sprigg  (Aka Christopher Cauldwell)  was born 20 October . He was born into a Roman Catholic family resident at 53 Montserrat Road, Putney. He was educated at the Benedictine Ealing priory School, but left school at the age of 15 after his father, Stanhope Sprigg, lost his job as literary editor of the Daily Express. He  moved with his father to Bradford and began work as a reporter for the Yorkshire Observer. He made his way to Marxism and set about rethinking everything in light of it, from poetry to philosophy to physics, later joining the Communist Party of Great Britain in Popular, London. In December 1936 he drove an ambulance to Spain and joined the International Brigades there, training as a machine-gunner at  Albacete before becoming a machine-gun instructor and group political delegate. He edited a wall newspaper.  Fatality in Fleet Street was first published in 1933, but is set several years later, on the eve of what history tells us was World War II. The supreme irony is that St John Sprigg could have predicted neither this nor his own untimely death on 12 February 1937. He was killed in action on 12 February 1937, the first day of the Battle of the Jarma Valley





Jennifer Palmer Throughout my reading life crime fiction has been a constant interest; I really enjoyed my 15 years as an expatriate in the Far East, the Netherlands & the USA but occasionally the solace of closing my door to the outside world and sitting reading was highly therapeutic. I now lecture to adults on historical topics including Famous Historical Mysteries.



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