Victor Whitechurch Critical Essays


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Who is better qualified than a rural Anglican churchman to write novels of crime detection whose settings are quaint English villages? There surely can be no one with more experience in the observation of behavior and with more intimate knowledge of the secret pain of his contemporaries than the sympathetic parson of a country church. During the latter part of his thirty-year avocation as a writer, Victor Whitechurch became fascinated with crime fiction. His service and experience in the church no doubt provided his imagination with abundant material for character development, and once his first crime novel was published, his work of this type soon became well accepted by readers and critics alike.

The Crime at Diana’s Pool

Whitechurch had an unusual approach to plot development, one that he was not in the least hesitant to share with his readers. In the foreword to The Crime at Diana’s Pool (1927), he confides that his method was to write the first chapter without knowing “why the crime had been committed, who had done it, or how it was done.” He set himself this task, he says, because in a true crime those in charge of investigation are in the same position and must work their way through the clues as they are uncovered or as they appear. Whitechurch suggested that after reading the first chapter, the reader might close the book and devise his own plot, then compare the result with that of the author. One can assume, however, that very few of Whitechurch’s readers would be willing to forgo the pleasure of proceeding through the novel, once begun, in favor of working out a separate plot. In the first chapter of The Crime at Diana’s Pool, the host of a summer garden party is found dead in his own pool, a knife having penetrated his green coat, which had originally been worn by a musician hired for the party. After such a beginning, one would find it difficult to put the novel aside.

Whitechurch was obviously familiar with life in English villages and thoroughly knowledgeable regarding the people of whom he wrote. Included in each novel is a police investigator who is intelligent, cautious, and conscientious. There is often a vicar, who may serve as the amateur sleuth. (In The Crime at Diana’s Pool, the vicar, through careful, reasoned study, deduces the identity of the murderer and provides the proof necessary to arrest him.) An attractive couple provides the token wearisome romance. Other characters often present are the village doctor, a lawyer or two, town tradesmen, members of the propertied class, and their gardeners and other servants (in one novel, the butler is the culprit). Men are in the positions of authority, and women stay in their places. Diana Garforth, in The Crime at Diana’s Pool, is described as follows:Diana was four-and-twenty, essentially a type of the English country girl. She played a good game of golf and tennis, rode to hounds, drove a car, and was game for a tenmile walk over the hills when the mood took her. Added to this she was a first-rate housekeeper, and “ran” “Beechcroft”...

(The entire section is 1270 words.)