Not to Be Taken – Anthony Berkeley
Penguin Mystery & Crime – 1946
This is the first card that I’ve written about for five years. And the first that I’ve allowed someone else to put to the top of the pack.
I’d never heard of Anthony Berkeley, so it was the ambiguous title that attracted my attention. It reminded me of an observation by Spike Milligan, “the prison camp was full of British officers who’d sworn to die rather than be captured”. Or maybe one of Benny Hill’s dodgier songs, “He asked if she should be taken literally”. She said, “I’m not to be taken at all!” It’s not good entertainment. We all take extra responsibility sometimes.
The clue of course, is in the dark green Penguin Mystery & Crime cover. The substance not to be taken is poison, a fact reinforced by the release in the USA of the novel as A Puzzle in Poison.
Anthony Berkeley was a loosely veiled pseudonym, one of several used by Anthony Berkeley Cox who also wrote as Frances Iles and the splendidly named A Monmouth Platt. Cox’s career as a crime novelist lasted less than 15 years, but in that time he earned a reputation as part of the Golden Age of detective fiction.
Like many crime writers, Berkeley wrote most of his novels as part of a series featuring a quirky detective, in his case an amateur called Roger Sheringham. But Not to Be Taken is a non-series novel and the reader follows the events leading up the death of John Waterhouse, which may or may not be from natural causes. Unusually for novels in this genre, the case is observed from outside the police investigation with none of the usual insider information. It’s also unusual in that it features a strong female character, the feminist Rona Brougham.
Cox also founded the Detection Club, an invitation-only social club for prominent crime writers. Presidents of the Detection Club have included G K Chesterton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L Sayers. There was an initiation ritual with an oath, probably written by either Chesterton or Sayers, and the club held regular dinners in London. It’s still going to this day.
In the oath, prospective member promised that their detectives would “well and truly detect the crimes presented to them” and not rely on or make use of, “Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery-Pokery, Coincidence, or Act of God.”
Perhaps the oath explains why there are so few female detectives in fiction. There’s not much point in being a detective if you can’t use your intuition.
Towards the end of Not to Be Taken, Berkeley issues a challenge to the reader, asking for answers to various questions, which the reader ought to be able to answer from the information they had at their disposal.
So, dear reader, are you able to work out the name of the person who inspired me to write this post from the clues at the beginning, initially at least?