Friday, 28 October 2016

Forgotten Book - Dumb Vengeance

Dumb Vengeance is a rare and little-known detective novel written by Stella Tower, published in 1933, and so far as I know, never reprinted. It was drawn to my attention by Jamie Sturgeon, a highly recommended book dealer, and thanks to him, I've just read it. This was the first novel by Tower (who wrote one more book under that name, and then a handful (and at least one stage play, Open Verdict) under the name Faith Wolseley

The dust jacket blurb makes the bold claim that "It is fair to say that few thrillers yet published have contained as great an element of surprise in their denouement as Dumb Vengeance". To be honest, I think this is over-stating the case, because I had a rough idea of what was likely to happen at the end, but that said, the book does end well.

It also begins very well. The story is told in the first person by a character called Miss Jenkins, who lives at Houghton, the home of well-to-do John Vine and his wife Gloria. Vine is a likeable chap, and Miss Jenkins is devoted to him. But here comes the first twist - Miss Jenkins is a dog.

This book was, as far as I know the first crime novel to be narrated by an animal (please let me know if you are aware of an earlier example). And although it's a traditional whodunit, it's by no means as "cosy" as many of the novels featuring cats that are especially popular in the United States. It's also conspicuously well-written, and at times very witty. For a first novel, it's a very assured piece of work.

It does, however, in my opinion sag somewhat in the middle, and one could argue that this is because there isn't enough meat in the plot - a brilliant short story idea has been expanded beyond its ideal length. But I can understand why Tower wanted to make the most of her original concept. I enjoyed reading Dumb Vengeance, and I look forward to reading more of her work. She really could write.


Ted said...

Interesting that WorldCat lists this book's title as 'Dumb vengeance : a semi-detective tale'.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I'm not quite sure what that means, to be honest. I suppose - verging on a mainstream novel. Certainly the detective element is a bit flimsy, but the writing is a compensation.