06 June 2022

Accidents Never Happen in a Perfect World

Murder by Accident
Leonie Mason [Joan Suter]
London: C. & J. Temple, 1947
200 pages

Guy Warren is a demobbed major. The war over, he seeks rest and relaxation at Green Acres, an American-styled retreat in the English countryside. Henry and Christie Burton serve as host and hostess. Fellow guests include middle-aged middlebrow novelist Anna Rawlings, her much younger husband Frank, and her overworked secretary Angela Nash. Soon to be divorced brassy blonde Lydia French and wealthy hotelier George Hesketh round out Green Acres' vacationers. 

Was there a time in which hotel guests gathered in the common room for evenings of conversation and bridge? Murder by Accident suggests as much. With the sun setting on Guy's first day at Green Acres, Lydia begins making moves. He enjoys the attention until pretty Angela enters in the room.

The next morning, host Henry has to deal with novelist Anna turning up late for breakfast. On a typical day, this hour is set aside for going over business in private with Christie. Anna intrudes, takes a generous helping of eggs and mushrooms, retires to her room, becomes violently ill, and dies. Henry does better in that he survives.

The coroner is called, blame is placed on the local grocer for providing toadstools, and everyone moves on but not out. All stay at Green Acres, Guy and newly-unemployed Angela included; their burgeoning romance is fed by a shared conviction that Anna was murdered.

Joan Suter's second novel, Murder by Accident followed her first, East of Temple Bar by a matter of months. Of the two, I prefer the former, but only for its autobiographical elements.

Murder by Accident isn't terrible. Its most obvious flaw lies in the title, which serves as something of a spoiler. While Guy and Angela talk and talk and talk, positing this theory and that about Anna's death, the reader knows that the novelist's murder wasn't intentional.

The book's greatest flaw lies in its climax. I regret to report that this is one of those mysteries in which the murderer is given the opportunity to murder again so as to be caught in the act. Worst still, the intended method is absurd.

I'll say no more, but will be happy to share with the curious. You may just laugh.

Trivia: Both East of Temple Bar and Murder by Accident were thrown aside, never to be acknowledged after the author's emigration to Canada. As Joan Walker, wife of James Rankin Walker, the former Joan Suter (aka Leone Walker) wrote three more books: Pardon My Parka (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1954; winner of the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour), Repent at Leisure (Toronto: Ryerson, 1957; winner of the Ryerson Fiction Prize), and Marriage of Harlequin (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1962; it won nothing). She lived a further thirty-five years after the last, but published no further books.

Object: A post-war artefact, Murder by Accident is a cheap production bound in flimsy red boards with delicate wraps. I paid eight pounds for my copy. Its dust jacket promotes The Attic Murder and Four Callers in Razor Street, two Temple mysteries by Sydney Fowler. How's this for a jacket illustration?

Access: I can find no evidence that any library has Murder by Accident in its holdings. A bookseller in Blackpool has listed a copy sans jacket at £7.25. After that, there's nothing.

Get it while you can!  

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