We begin with the murder of one woman and the theft from another of some fabulous jewels. The story is told in the headlines of a London newspaper: "DOUBLE CRIME AT LONDON HOTEL." It goes on to explain: "Body of Woman Found wrapped in Eiderdown" and, after a few descriptive passages we are told, "COUNTESS'S JEWELS STOLEN." Not surprisingly, perhaps, we are also told that Scotland Yard is already at work and said to be "anxious to get in touch" with the man who lunched with the murder victim during the afternoon.
And so begins a chase and search that will take us deep into The Crime Coast, a 1931 novel by a young woman named Elizabeth Gill. And we'll meet some very remarkable people along the way - an artist with the delightful name of Benvenuto Brown, who also has a talent for detection; a young woman artist named Adelaide Moon who is a friend of Brown, and another young man named Paul Ashby, who will take on the role of a Watson to Brown's efforts at detection. The Crime Coast is the subject of today's audio review on the Classic Mysteries podcast, and you can listen to the complete review by clicking here.
Elizabeth Gill is another "find" for the publisher, Dean Street Press - an author so little remembered today that even the comprehensive wiki devoted to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction contains no mention of her. From Curtis Evans's introduction to this new edition of The Crime Coast, we learn that Elizabeth Gill, very highly regarded in her all-too-brief career as a mystery novelist, died quite suddenly when she was only 32, having written just three mysteries, all featuring Benvenuto Brown as detective.
The first of these novels, called Strange Holiday in the U.K. and The Crime Coast in the United States, was published in 1931. It opens with an elderly man suffering a mild heart attack and falling on the stairs outside Paul Ashby’s door, Ashby, about to leave London for a holiday in the south of France, hears Major Kent fall and brings him into his flat to rest and recover. The two men got to talking – and, before Paul Ashby knows it, he finds himself committed to searching for Adrian Kent.
That quest brings him into contact with Benvenuto Brown and another artist, Adelaide Moon. When Paul learns the details of those crimes at a London hotel, – he realizes to his horror that Adrian Kent is the prime suspect in the murder of the woman at that hotel. As for the robbery that happened at the same time, that is attributed to a mysterious professional jewel thief called “the Slosher.” And we learn that Detective Inspector Leech of Scotland Yard has been sent to St. Antoine to look both for the jewel thief and for Adrian Kent – who has vanished.
It’s a complex plot, well laid-out by the author, with Paul Ashby acting as Watson to Benvenuto Brown – although Brown doesn’t always keep Ashby fully informed about what’s going on; as Brown explains, "unless a man is temperamentally a good liar, it always seems to me a pity to load him up with information that he may have to conceal." Readers won’t always get the information any more quickly than Paul does. In the end, of course, we will learn the truth about that murder – and that robbery – in London, and then untangle that web of clues and events leading towards a satisfying conclusion.
The Crime Coast serves as an introduction to Benvenuto Brown, and I’m curious now to see how Elizabeth Gill’s other two mysteries will play out. Dean Street Press, which provided me with an electronic copy of The Crime Coast for this review, has reissued all three of her books in paper and electronic editions. I think you would enjoy them.