Patently Murder by Ray Harrison

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Patently Murder

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this entertaining mystery, the body of a pristinely dressed child is found by Catherine Marsden, whose contacts with the police are both professional and social. She is a journalist, a career woman in a prefeminist age, and, moreover, involved amorously with Constable Morton, the upper-class detective who has the unsavory job of visiting the lower-class haunts of the victims. His partner is Sergeant Bragg, a down-to-earth investigator who, one way or another, always nabs the malefactor. The corpse is that of a child prostitute, and the inquiry by Morton and Bragg, perforce, reopens another unsolved crime. The complicated but entirely coherent plot intertwines themes of official corruption, industrial sabotage, and prewar diplomacy around the coldest, most inhuman of crimes, the murder of a girl, more innocent in death than ever in life. Into this story are mixed subthemes of bureaucratic jealousy, suffragist rhetoric, and class antagonisms, all with a descriptive flair that is both instructive and entertaining.

PATENTLY MURDER is an atmospheric mystery whose narrative is more engaging than its inevitable, sadly predictable conclusion. It is a polished, literate work, a worthy successor to its nine predecessors, yet satisfactory on its own. Without torturing the plot and with convincing accuracy, Harrison has his story turn on Alfred Nobel’s pyrotechnic genius. It is a measure of his talent that his readers accept the quirky industrialist as a “natural” creation, surely the mark of “true,” organic fiction.