Friday, December 27, 2013

"For the Advanced Student in Literary Detection"

By C. Daly King.
1939. 275 pages. $2.00

Since its publication, opinion has been divided over King's novel:
Violent deaths in flood-bound Connecticut mansion pit Insp. Lord against numerous impeccable alibis. - Puzzle of the 1st Class, with oceans of erudition for those that like it, and swift action for them as don't. - Verdict: Prize baffler. — THE SATURDAY REVIEW (January 28, 1939)
Arrogant Alibi, by C. Daly King attempts the most difficult of all mystery-story devices—namely, the disintegration of the multiple alibi. And it succeeds amazingly well. Though Freeman Wills Crofts is the undisputed dean of the alibi mechanicians, Mr. King is well forward. Furthermore, he has two related crimes to clear up—the murder of a great Egyptologist's widow, Mrs. Timothy, and that of Elisha Spingler, a co-worker of the late Doctor Timothy. When the vorpal blades go snicker-snack Michael Lord, a New York Police Inspector, and his close friend, Doctor Pons, an "integrative psychologist," are luckily present in the musty residence-museum to apprehend the arrogant slayer. It all adds up to an ingenious, carefully planned, and highly literate tale for the advanced student in literary detection. — "Books" by S. S. Van Dine, SCRIBNER'S (March 1939)
However, time hath wrought its changes:
The famous critics and Golden Age fans Barzun and Taylor really liked this book. Since they could be very harsh judges, that's quite something. But I'm afraid I didn't get on with Arrogant Alibi. It's one thing to have all the right ingredients for a whodunit, quite another to make best use of them. And I'm afraid I felt that this is the sort of book that justifies people who don't like Golden Age novels in saying that they are boring. King spends pages, for instance, on explaining a telephone system that is connected to the storyline. I'm afraid this went so far beyond pleasingly authentic detail as to cause me to lose the will to live. — Martin Edwards, DO YOU WRITE UNDER YOUR OWN NAME? (27 December 2013)

Category: Detective fiction

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