Friday, 16 June 2017

Forgotten Book - The Lyttleton Case

The Lyttleton Case by R.A.V. Morris is a fairly early example of the Golden Age detective novel. It was first published by Collins in 1922, and was well received, but the author never returned to the genre. I find this puzzling, and so evidently did Douglas A. Anderson, who contributes a useful foreword to the new edition, which appears in Harper Collins' splendid Detective Story Club series of reprints.

I have to say I'd never heard of Morris, or his book until this new edition came out. Douglas Anderson suggests that Morris was tempted to write because he wanted to keep up with the achievements of his brother Kenneth, who wrote fantasy novels. Both men were members of the Theosophical Society, but there's no explanation as to why Morris didn't build on the success of his crime fiction debut.

Anderson points out that there are various references to detective fiction in the story - Dupin and Sherlock are name-checked, but perhaps the most significant mention is that of Freeman Wills Crofts' The Cask (1920). My impression is that the success of the Crofts book inspired Morris, because there are some similarities between his approach to crime writing and Crofts'. (Crofts also influenced better known writers such as G.D.H. Cole, Henry Wade, and John Bude).

The first part of the story is clever and appealing. A rich man called Lyttleton disappears, and we soon fear the worst for him. An ingenious crime has been committed, and the story is enhanced by several nice touches of wit. I felt, however, that it sagged quite noticeably from about the half-way point, and after the major revelation, the explanation of what has been going on is prolonged. These flaws are the marks of an inexperienced writer. But Morris certainly had talent, and it's a shame he didn't go on to greater things in the genre.


Steve said...

I hadn't heard of either the author or this book either, until I read your comments on it just now. Thanks for calling it to my attention, and to everyone else's who reads your blog. That it's available in such an attractive new edition is great news, and I've just ordered a copy. HarperCollins is doing an excellent job on their Detective Story Club books.

Martin Edwards said...

You are dead right, Steve, they are. Hope you like it.