Thursday, December 21, 2017

#14 - Death Walks in Eastrepps by Francis Beeding (1931)

dustjackets.com


About this edition: This edition contains a teaser of the first chapter of the next edition (The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton). 

John Leslie Palmer, image from robertarood.wordpress.com

About the author: A Wikipedia article reveals Francis Beeding is a pseudonym of John Leslie Palmer (1885 - 1944), an English author. As "Francis Beeding", he and Hilary Saint George Saunders co-authored The House of Dr. Edwardes. The novel was later used as the basis for the Hitchcock film Spellbound.

Characters:
  • Robert Eldridge, a.k.a. John/James* Selby, having an affair with a married woman
  • Margaret Withers, the married woman - estranged from her husband
  • Withers - the estranged husband
  • Dick Coldfoot, Margaret's cousin, a blackmailer
  • Mary Hewitt, victim #1
  • Miss Helen Taplow, victim #2
  • John Masters, fisherman, witness, and victim #3
  • Captain Thomas Porter, victim #4
  • Winifred Dampier, garden hobbyist, victim #5
  • Colonel James Hewitt, Mary Hewitt's brother
  • Hon. Alistair Rockingham, "soft in his head" after his nervous breakdown
  • Higgins, Rockingham's butler - now his caretaker
  • William Ferris, correspondent for the Daily Wire, victim #6
  • Sergeant Ruddock, an insightful policeman
  • Sir Jefferson Cobb, Chief Constable of the County
  • Inspector Protheroe, the plodding type
  • Chief Inspector Wilkins of Scotland Yard


Locale: UK

Synopsis: Our central character now goes by the name of Robert Eldridge, but he is really John Selby; who disappeared while running Anaconda, Ltd., which failed and left many investors penniless. He assumed the identity of Eldridge to avoid meeting up with any of the investors.

Eastrepps is a seaside resort town, and home of Margaret Withers - married but estranged. Eldridge has been having a once-a-week Wednesday night tryst with her, in secret; and sneaks off to see her by train - using an elaborate ruse to make it appear he is elsewhere. Her cousin, Dick Coldfoot, finds out and blackmails her to keep it quiet.

The troubles begin. Mary Hewitt is murdered while walking at night in an isolated area, closely followed by Miss Helen Taplow. Fisherman John Masters was a witness to the first then he becomes the third victim. All are killed by a sharp instrument to the head, all at 10:30 PM. 

Inspector Protheroe and Sir Jefferson Cobb enlist the aid of Scotland Yard, while Sergeant Ruddock conducts his own inquiries. Alistair Rockingham, a bit "soft in the head" after a nervous breakdown, is an immediate suspect. He likes to sneak out at night and accost young ladies.

The troubles continue. Captain Thomas Porter, Winifred Dampier and journalist Ferris are the next victims. 

An arrest is made and a suspect brought into court on circumstantial evidence.

Review:

This story of murders in a peaceful English seaside town is a page-turner. The main character Robert Eldridge- do we love him or hate him? - is an admitted crook and left many people penniless. Here he is having an illicit affair with a married woman, yet our sympathies are with them both. The deaths start to pile up (there are six), and Eldridge is arrested and brought into court entirely on circumstantial evidence.

The last quarter of the book is devoted to an accounting of the trial, in great detail. It reminds me of the courtroom dramas of Erle Stanley Gardner in the Perry Mason series. 

A few items should be noted: The description of the how the train alibi worked was confusing and took a while to figure out. The character Selby is sometimes John and sometimes James. There is an occasional use of terms for African-Americans which are unacceptable today, but were in common use at the time; likewise references to blackfaced minstrels.


*The first name is inconsistent in the text.





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