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Thursday 26 August 2021

‘Dead Men's Money’ by J.S. Fletcher

Published by Ressurected Press,
20 Septenber 2010.
ISBN: 978-1-93577432-7 (PB)

The story is told in the First Person by Hugh Moneylaws, who is describing events that occurred ten years previously, when he was a twenty-one-year-old solicitor's clerk. At that point, Hugh lived with his widowed mother, a respectable woman who was forced to take in lodgers to make ends meet.

Hugh was looking out of his mother's parlour window when he saw: 'Standing right before the house, a man who had a black patch over his left eye, an old plaid thrown loosely around his shoulders, and in his right hand a stout stick and an old-fashioned carpet-bag.... If I had possessed the power of seeing more than the obvious, I should have seen robbery, and murder, and the very devil himself coming in close attendance upon him as he crossed the pavement. But, as it was, I saw nothing but a stranger.'

The man, who calls himself James Gilverthwaite, has come to ask for lodgings at Mrs Moneylaws' house. He seems respectable and wealthy and tells her that he wants to visit local graveyards where he has relations buried. Fletcher shows both his skill at characterisation and his sly humour as Hugh observes, 'I could see that the sentiment in his speech touched my mother, who was fond of visiting graveyards herself, and she turned to Mr James Gilverthwaite with a nod of acquiescence.'

All goes along quietly for some weeks, until Gilverthwaite becomes ill and is confined to his bed. He summons Hugh and offers him the large sum of £10 to keep a night-time appointment for him and, after using a code word, to explain to the person he is meeting that Gilverthwaite is to ill to meet him for a few more days. Hugh is eager to earn the money because he is saving to be married but his girlfriend, Maisie Dunlop, is more concerned about the danger he might be exposed to. 'I would liefer go without chair or table, pot or pan, than that you should be running risks in a lonesome place like that...'

Hugh does keep the appointment and finds a something terrible awaiting him there. 'And I knew on the instant that this was the stain of blood, and I do not think I was surprised when, advancing a step or two further, I saw lying in the roadside grass at my feet, the still figure and white face of a man who, I knew with a sure and certain instinct, was not only dead but had been cruelly murdered.'

Hugh summons the police but when he returns to his mother's house with the police officer, who wishes to question Gilverthwaite, they discover that he too is dead, lying in his bed. 

As he was heading to meet the murdered man, Hugh had seen somebody else that fateful night, a famous and respected man that he recognises. Rather than win the ill-will of this man and place his own career in jeopardy, Hugh sets out to discover the truth and, supported by Maisie, his solicitor employer and other well-wishers, he soon discovers a complex and dangerous plot. Hugh survives many attempts on his life before he uncovers the truth.

Dead Men's Money is set further north than Fletcher's usual territory, in Berwick-on-Tweed, just south of the border with Scotland. This location may well add to the Robert Louis Stevenson feel of the book; certainly many of the adventures endured by Hugh Moneylaws are not unlike the sufferings of David Balfour in Kidnapped. The start of Dead Men's Money, with Hugh explaining that he is recording an adventure now past, is very similar to Treasure Island, and the arrival of Gilverthwaite in Dead Men's Money mirrors the arrival of the sea dog in Treasure Island.

Dead Men's Money is a fast-paced, adventure detective story. I found Hugh's habit of placing himself in harm's way  irritating but over-all it is an enjoyable read and Maisie Dunlop is a well-rounded and likeable character.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Joseph Smith Fletcher ( (1863-1935) was a British journalist and writer. He wrote about 200 books on a wide variety of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. He was one of the leading writers of detective fiction in the "Golden Age".


Carol Westron  is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 5 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book This Game of Ghosts
click on the title.

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