Elleston Trevor doesn’t rate a single mention in The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing (1999), and that’s a real shame. The author of some 100 novels, as Trevor he published exciting war and adventure stories that easily stand comparison with those by such contemporaries as Alistair MacLean and Hammond Innes. As ‘Adam Hall’ he produced the Quiller spy series, easily one of the best of the 60s and 70s, and The Flight of the Phoenix, so good it was filmed twice. He also used several other pseudonyms, his chess-themed whodunits featuring Sherlockian amateur sleuth Hugo Bishop originally appearing in the UK as by ‘Simon Rattray’ and ‘Hall’ in the US. In his sophomore case, Bishop hunts a killer loose in the world of haute couture …
The following review is offered as part of Kerrie’s 2012 Alphabet of Crime community meme over at her Mysteries in Paradise blog, which has reached the letter Q. As the book came out before 1960, this review is also eligible under the guidelines of Bev’s 2012 Vintage Mystery Readers Challenge for which I have selected to read and review at least eight mystery novels on the theme of amnesia. I also offer it as part of the Friday’s Forgotten Books meme run by Patti Abbott over at her Pattinase blog.
“The impossible is only the thing that happens when you never expected it”
Along with such Holmesian pronouncements, when we first meet Bishop he is cleaning out his meerschaum pipe and this case, involving an old murder and the stalking of an escaped prisoner, has more that a few nods in the direction of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Like Holmes he is a dilettante who undertakes the solving of crimes purely for his own intellectual satisfaction, frequently to the irritation of both his assistant and Scotland Yard. On the other hand, Bishop is quite young, swans around in a 1920 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost, larks around playing marbles with his Siamese cat and cultivates an air of frivolity and facetiousness more in the style of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion. He loves chess and tends to plot his investigation like tactics on a board – in fact the book is not subdivided into chapters but into ‘moves’. The Watson to his Holmes (sic) is Miss Vera Gorringe, a lady of a ‘certain age’ who, despite being exasperated by her boss’ antics, does much of the groundwork, tracking down all the background on cases and suspects that might appeal to our detective hero. It is she who informs him that Thelma Tasman is potentially in great danger from a madman who just escaped from Broadmoor prison for the mentally insane. Thelma is the eponymous Queen of the title, a fashion journalist who writes as ‘Gloria del Ray’ for a popular magazine edited by her old friend Maurice Jarrold. He is the only person on the staff who knows that Thelma is really the wife of Maurice Speight, an artist who two years before was convicted of murdering a young woman at a bombed out site in London.
“I think Speight had a damned good reason for breaking out. I don’t think it was to see his wife. or to go to the pictures. or even to visit the scene of his crime and gloat over the memory.”
Thelma is now living as the wife of aeronautics engineer Victor Tasman though she is in fact still married to Speight, who just broke out of jail and is apparently set on murder. Maurice does his best to keep her out of trouble but she refuses to leave London, gutsily deciding to brazen it out and wait for Speight to be caught, which seems likely as a full manhunt has been put in place by Inspector Frisnay of Scotland Yard.
“It’s not bad inside, except that it’s a man-trap … Inside the trap you can’t see the world for all the tress …”
Bishop becomes intrigued when he stakes out the scene of the original crime and meets Bishop. He always claimed that he found the girl already dead and was knocked out by the real murderer. He then suffered amnesia and was unable to remember who attacked him. Since going to Broadmoor his memory has partially returned and Speight has drawn a portrait of the man he is looking for. He doesn’t know who he is and where he is but is determined to find him and make him pay. Bishop decides to look into the old case, intrigued by the possibility that Speight, already a depressive before his conviction, may be telling the truth. He decides to keep an eye on Thelma, who believes Speight is jealous of her new boyfriend and plans to kill her, and so starts moving in her world of high fashion.
“There’s gold in them thar frills”
We meet some of Thelma’s colleagues, including a photographer with a roving eye, as well as the family of the murdered girl, who seems to have been busy blackmailing a lot of men after getting them in compromising position. One in particular, known as ‘The Gent’, seems to have had potentially a lot to lose if his relationship with the girl had come to light. The Bishop novels are more old-fashioned mysteries compared with the topical ‘Adam Hall’ thrillers, with our sleuth solving crimes via deductive reasoning and purely from a spirit of adventure. In this particular case the least likely suspect turns out to be the culprit, which is not therefore hard to discern, not least because there is in fact rather a paucity of said suspects.
Hall ‘s real strength lies in the various suspense sequences in which Thelma comes to believe she is being stalked by Speight, either at home or, most unnervingly, at the beauty salon where, encased in a face pack that means she can’t really see anything, she becomes certain that he is standing right next to her. The writing style, objectively standing outside the action and describing in minute physiological and psychological detail the torment the poor woman is going through, will be very familiar to fans of the Quiller series. It is integrated fairly well here into an amusing mystery – it not a great book perhaps, but full of promise and Bishop is amusingly unusual, basically lighthearted detective.
- Knight Sinister (1951)
- Queen in Danger (1952)
- Bishop in Check (1953)
- Dead Silence (1954; US title: Pawn in Jeopardy)
- Dead Circuit (1955 ;US title: Rook’s Gambit)
- Dead Sequence (1957)
The screen rights to Queen in Danger were snapped up by Hammer productions shortly after publication and the film version was released the following year with Paul Henreid cast as Bishop while the character of Gorringe was heavily re-written so that the delightful Kay Kendal could play the role. Known as Mantrap in the UK (and not to be confused with the hyphenated 1961 Hollywood thriller Man-Trap starring David Janssen), it was released in the US as Man in Hiding. Even more confusingly the movie credits the book source onscreen not to Rattray or Hall but to Elleston Trevor. Crazy titles and confusing credits aside, I shall be reviewing that film here next week. Until then, it’s your move …