Ashton-Kirk, Criminologist (1918)

Ashton-Kirk, Criminologist (1918) - John T. McIntyre This novel features a colourful sidekick for Ashton-Kirk: Bat Scanlon, fighter and gym owner. Scanlon is pretty obviously the brawn to A-K's brain.

A "well-known clubman", Thomas Burton, estranged from his family, is found murdered at the home shared by his son and daughter. There is a glamorous actress, Nora Cavanaugh, beloved of Bat, who just so happens to be separated (not divorced) from Burton. He had been pestering her for money.

Ashton-Kirk's investigations give the author opportunity for word pictures of various contemporary urban scenes outside the usual haunts of a middle-class reader: an illegal gambling establishment, a Chinese restaurant, and fisticuffs between professional fighters, for instance. However, detailed description isn't McIntyre's forte - instead he advances his characters through his red herrings with lots of dialogue.

The main red herring is Nora the actress, the theft of whose diamonds is contemporary with the murder. To Bat Scanlon's dismay, she seems to develop into the primary suspect. To further complicate matters, Frank Burton, the son, confesses to the murder while held in custody, but it is unclear whom he is protecting.

It turns out to be a double red herring: two near unknowns, introduced near the end of the book, turn out to be the evildoers, eliminating both the obvious female (Nora) and the less obvious (Mary, Frank's sister, whom he was protecting).

I found myself thrown out of the narrative a number of times by racial/national stereotypes (mostly conveyed through "accents"). One of the main villains is characterized as Swiss, but is referred to as Dutch on one page, making me think McIntyre wasn't too worried about phonological accuracy so long as he could suggest "foreign villain"! The use of casual racist terms like "chinks" is of its time, and appropriate in the mouths of the characters, such as a burglar, who say them, but still a bit bumpy for a modern reader. Some passages, by contrast, are disconcertingly modern, such as the discussion Bat has with his criminal friend about trading in "snow" and "dope".

Despite the merciless prolonging of the two female red herring stories, which I found made the ending seem both abrupt and unsatisfactory, I did enjoy this mystery quite a bit.