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Sunday 16 June 2024

‘The Voice of the Corpse’ by Max Murray

Published by Galileo,  
2 May 2024.
ISBN: 978-1-91553031-8 (PB)

This novel (first published in 1947) was the first of the 12 written by Murray, all but one having ‘corpse’ in the title. Angela Pewsey is worse than the village gossip; she spends all her time observing and spying on her fellow inhabitants and uses all the information she gleans in malevolent ways, including threatening letters, so the village is grateful when she is murdered in mid-afternoon by a blow to the head. Indeed, it is said that it was ‘the first time in many years that someone had done something in her vicinity about which she was not thoroughly informed.’

The murder is committed whilst the comely Celia Sim is returning by train from London with her family solicitor Firth Prentice. He is aggrieved to be cast into the role of reluctant investigator and decides not to hand over some written evidence he has been given by a pair of local boys (they are a recurring double act and vital to the plot) when his help is declined by the local police in the guise of the stolid Sergeant Porter. The latter is convinced the murder was committed by a tramp; a view not shared by anyone else. The lack of progress in the investigation leads inevitably to the arrival of Scotland Yard in the person of Inspector Fowler. He soon discovers that the villagers are not keen to help him solve the case.

And so, begins a sequence of events and discoveries. There are a number of liaisons going on which complicate matters. Celia’s lover Graham Ward appears to have things to hide, as do the local doctor and the wife of a local drunk. The doctor’s receptionist is clearly holding a torch for her employer. It transpires that the wife of one of the suspects – who is not all he seems - has gone missing. Given that the novel was published just after the Second World War, it is not surprising that there is also a degree of topicality.

I enjoyed Murray’s entertainingly wry style very much. The village is called Inching Round, for a start. Describing the village, the author states that ‘it would be unfair to Inching Round to say that its inhabitants enjoyed the aftermath of Angela Mason Pewsey. On the other hand, there was a background of excitement to the whole business that made quite a nice change .... without doubt there was a trace of buoyancy in the air.’ Later Inspector Fowler enjoys a beer and ‘took a swallow that showed a nice balance between thirst and appreciation.’

The characters are well drawn. Celia’s mother, for instance, seems at first to be completely dotty but it soon transpires that she is anything but. The local boys have already been mentioned. For most of the novel there is only a small number of credible suspects, but vital evidence surfaces towards the end (the boys are again involved). After all, seems done and dusted, Firth Prentice discovers the real truth. It is a satisfyingly rounded denouement.

There is much to savour in this tale. If you have a taste for Golden Age mysteries, you will not be disappointed.
Reviewer: David Whittle

Max Alexander Murray  (1901-1956) began life in Australia as a bush boy. His first job was that of a reporter on a Sydney paper but after a year he set out to work his way round the world. He spent eight months in the US and later worked for the News Chronicle where he was sent to Moscow, Siberia, China, Japan, The Philippines and Australia. During the Second World War he wrote scripts for, and edited Radio Newsreel for the BBC Overseas Programme. After the war, with intervals for travel, he devoted himself primarily to writing fiction.

David Whittle  is firstly a musician (he is an organist and was Director of Music at Leicester Grammar School for over 30 years) but has always enjoyed crime fiction. This led him to write a biography of the composer Bruce Montgomery who is better known to lovers of crime fiction as Edmund Crispin, about whom he gives talks now and then. He is currently convenor of the Midlands Chapter of the Crime Writers’ Association.

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