23 January 2016

Review: DUCK SEASON DEATH, June Wright

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 911 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Dark Passage (December 21, 2014)
    Originally written sometime in the 1950s
  • Publication Date: December 21, 2014
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00N01TQOW
Synopsis (Amazon)

June Wright wrote this lost gem in the mid-1950s, but consigned it to her bottom drawer after her publisher foolishly rejected it. Perhaps it was a little ahead of its time?

Because while it’s a tour de force of the classic ‘country house’ murder mystery, it’s also a delightful romp, poking fun at the conventions of the genre. When someone takes advantage of a duck hunt to murder publisher Athol Sefton at a remote hunting inn, it soon turns out that virtually everyone, guests and staff alike, had a good reason for shooting him. Sefton’s nephew Charles thinks he can solve the crime by applying the “rules of the game” he’s absorbed from his years as a reviewer of detective fiction – only the killer evidently isn’t playing by those rules.

Duck Season Death is a both a fiendishly clever whodunit and a marvellous entertainment.

My take:

What the blurb above does not say is that the main reason this novel was "consigned to her bottom drawer" was that the author's usual publisher rejected this offering in the 1950s because of negative reviews by three of their pre-publishing readers.

I can understand what attracted scathing comments from these readers. First of all I think Wright meant this as a spoof on the genre. The murder victim is a publisher known for his scathing comments about would-be authors and the books they gave him to read, but also an unlikeable person who tried his invective out on most of those who  came within range. The amateur sleuth who thinks the murder is not accidental is his nephew, but he didn't like Athol Sefton any more than most people. He just thinks the local doctor and policeman are bumbling idiots.

Enter an odd plot strand - the victim himself was under observation by the Victoria police for the murder of his wife, actually a cold case, with the second suspect being the nephew who used to send her boxes of chocolates.

The style in which all this is written is, at first, a bit hard to take. She writes as if she has swallowed the dictionary, a rather pompous version of English which I think was supposed to point the finger at more academic writers from the Golden Age- lots of five syllable words appear in the narrative. The style changes a little for the better in the latter half of the novel. I think it was supposed to imitate the thinking style of the voice of the narrator which did change from section to section of the novel, but was nearly always that of the nephew.

So there we have it - a country house murder set in the style of Agatha Christie (to whom there is the odd reference), located in rural Victoria in the 1950s. The location is near the Murray River at a hotel called The Duck and Dog Inn. The timing: the opening of theduck shooting season.

I spent some time considering whether I thought Wright intended this as a spoof or not, and therefore how I should rate it. I think she did, but her original readers misunderstood, or disapproved. Other bits of humour emerge, even a romantic element. So it may well have been "ahead of its time", but she doesn't quite pull it off.

My rating: 3.5


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