Thursday, March 7, 2013

E. & M.A. Radford : It's Murder To Live! , 1947

E. & M.A. Radford, were a husband and wife writing duo, who edited  Encyclopaedia of Superstitionsthey were the spouses (E) dwin Isaac and (M) angan (A) ugusta Radford, of which the first was a journalist and the second was a writer. The two gave the prints thirty novels, all published in England (none in the U.S.).
The couple by spouses writers should not be surprising: in those days there were established pairs of authors who have had success, especially in the U.S.: the Cole, Kelley Roos, the Lockridge, Bristow & Manning. I wanted to try it too the Radford. Their series, best known, was with Dr. Manson and the CID Inspector Holroyd.
 It's Murder To Live! is the fifth novel in their production.
Hannah Hardcastle, owner of Dombey Hall, a house dating back to the seventeenth century, fears that someone in his house is poisoning her, and therefore, before she eats or drinks, she waits her kitten to lick everything, using it as "a taster " : she suspects a poisoning, because, she  warned severe pain after eating. Only then, she consumes meals and breakfast. However it does not explain to Sir Edward Allen, deputy superintendent, who she suspects to be her poisonerAllen and Dr. Manson, Head of the Science section of Scotland Yard, although they classified the woman almost as paranoid, to be in peace with their conscience, they decide to send someone in the palce. Is sent Inspector Kenway. He takes informations from the Pub about the  gossip of the neighborhood, then he goes to Dr. Williams, personal physician to the lady, who points out that his client has absolutely nothing, and that his rants relate more to indigestion that alleged poisoning. So the investigation is suspended.
Mrs. Hardcastle has many servants on his estate, and among them, a married couple, William and Harriet Bain: he factor, her housekeeper. Taken fairly recently, by the same Hannah Hardcastle. The couple adopted a girl, because they had no children.
William Bain, drinks heavily. One day he starts feeling severe pain in the stomach. The doctors speak about duodenal ulcer, but, the man, in spite of treatment, and although doctors underestimate his condition, dies in a short time.
A short time after her husband’s death, Harriet begins to experience severe abdominal pain. Dr. Williams can not to go, but he ensures he someone will send the next day:  he diagnoses acute gastritis, but has suspicions about the absence of vomiting. The fact is despite the care given to her by the doctor, she also dies with excruciating pain. At this time, the substitute doctor, fresh out of college, with more and more conscious of his responsibility, refuses to sign the death certificate and refers the case to Scotland Yard for an autopsy, which also validates the fears of the young doctor, confirming the poisoning of Harriet Brain for intake of antimony.
Now Scotland Yard remembers the accusations of Mrs. Hardcastle and decides to reopen the practice, sending at the place the Deputy Superintendent and the Chief of Police Science.
The two are sent on the spot, that is, Dombey Hall, and soon realize that everyone lived in that house have something to hide. First of all, the lady of the house, which proves to be more secretive and sometimes reluctant to explain the real reasons led her sometime before to Scotland Yard, and she refuses to say who she thought was the poisoner / her; then the waitress, Hester that reveals things in contradiction to what previously established, and finally Bessie Johnson, the cook, the one who more than others could add something to the food. Even Dr. Williams, doesn’t tell the whole truth. Also he is under investigation for having been able to have access more easily than others, to tartar emetic, a concoction containing small amounts of antimony, which we turn to have been used by Harriet Bain to her husband: the local women gave it to their husbands in secret, dissolving it in whiskey, to induce them to have nausea when they guzzled alcohol:  was a way to get them to stop drinking. So even Harriet could poison her husband. Was just the tartar emetic, taken in high concentrations, to have caused the death of both spouses?
However, it remains a basic question: if it is possible that it had been given to William Bain, why the wife should it take?
Moreover Sergeant Barrett founds Bessie, going away from the house with the excuse to go in the garden, at a water course, she chucked bags of white powder : what was it?
Initially it was thought to be antimony, but then you finds it is
platitudinous common soda: why so much reluctance to admit she had gone to download it? And why would she do this?
The weapon used seems interesting because normally it should serve other purposes: a pitcher. What's Hot? That the poisoning was not served up by pouring the wine of antimony content in the jug, but rather it has been altered by antimony restrained in this league pitcher. Very clever!
Who ever knew the properties of pocula? And was the same person, to have premeditated the murder of the couple? And why is that?
Know why, and not so much the identity of the murderer, will be the most gruesome of the whole affair, in the last lines of the novel.
Linear plot but interesting, offers history of the novel without preamble. There are not even sub-plot, but only the original plot, carried out in its variations, depending on the various characters implicative.
It 's interesting, because here there is not the death of the owner, or the death of an invitee, as often happens, but the death of two servants. This calls up a mystery novel by Georgette Heyer, in which to die is the butler: Why Shoot a Butler? (1933).
But what I want to emphasize is the extreme cleanliness of the story, which is running smoothly, although proposed various tracks alternative, but only to divert suspicion from the only possible person suspected, to whom the suspicions are addressed and diverted several times .
The presence, as possible killer, by three older women, we recall the atmosphere of Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), by Frank Capra.
The plot, in the alternation of twists, sometimes grotesque and paradoxical, leads to a logical conclusion, without the read will be affected, even rushing and a high voltage. The reason for this is the narrative style, which seem fluid, which also uses a british humor, so dissolving the dramatic events.
In short, a delightful read.

Pietro De Palma


  1. Fascinating review Piero, thanks very much - I have not read anoy of their books but like the idea of husband and wife teams, on and off the page. I quite liked the idea in the Heyer of bumping off a servant so nice to see it used here as well - cheers mate.


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