Monday, January 9, 2012

Review: DEAD MAN'S WATCH (1931) by G.D.H. and M. Cole

Well it's a brand new year and this my first entry in the 2012 Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge hosted by the wonderful Bev at her blog, MY READER'S BLOCK. She'll be keeping tabs on our reading lists as the year goes on as we read and report. I've earmarked three categories in this year's Challenge, see my post on Bev's Challenge here.

DEAD MAN'S WATCH qualifies for Lethal Locations.


I must thank John at PRETTY SINISTER BOOKS for sending me my very own adorable little copy of G.D.H. and Margaret Cole's sinister English countryside mystery, DEAD MAN'S WATCH. It's a particularly snug and handy version (4 1/4 " X 6 1/4"), published by Collins' Clear Type Press of London and Glasgow in 1931. (Not the version shown in the above cover pix.)

Oh, if only all books could be published in this handy, comfortable size. Thank you, John. You're a peach.

This version of DEAD MAN'S WATCH is a clear reminder, to me at least, of the reason why e-books simply cannot compare to the 'real' thing. Once I held this oh-so-attractive little book in my hands I simply couldn't imagine something as unengaged, charmless and static as an e-book ever having the same reading 'oomph'. It's hard to cozy up to something that isn't 'real'.

Frankly, the charm of this copy added to the whole enjoyable reading experience.


DEAD MAN'S WATCH is a fast moving, traditional mystery which is part whodunit and part how-dunit. It's a clever tale of confused identities and murder which begins when a body is found drowned and the police as well as an amateur sleuth, Sir Charles Wylie, a local baronet, suspect murder because of one significant clue: the victim's beard was shaved after death.

The meddling baronet is given short shrift by the local police so he decides to investigate the crime himself with the help of Miss Dolly Daniells, a spunky gal and doting friend of Ronald Bittaford, the rather hysterical young man who's found the body and keeps insisting it's his uncle Percy. Unfortunately for Ronald, everyone else insists that Percy has been dead and buried for six months.

Midway through the book there are several delightful letters exchanged between Dolly and Wylie as they write back and forth trying to make heads or tails of the mystery. Dolly has been sent to keep a comforting eye on Ronald as he, poor dispirited soul, has been squirreled away at the domicile of the dead man's widow.

It's a pretty puzzle for the impetuous Wylie and eventually, the police, especially in the stalwart person of Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard, when they come around to the idea that things are not what they previously seemed.

I figured out what was actually going on in DEAD MAN'S WATCH about halfway in, but that didn't stop me enjoying this fast-paced old school mystery.

Inspector Wilson, by the way, is a Coles recurring character. I would hope that Dolly Daniells and Charles Wylie would be also, but I have no idea.

I'm not familiar with the authors (I'd never heard of them until John introduced me his blog post), but now that I've read DEAD MAN'S WATCH, I'll be keeping an eye out for more books written by this talented husband and wife team.

Note: According to Wikipedia, the Coles wrote tons of mysteries and the big mystery to me, is why I'd never heard of them before.  Read more about the Coles here.


  1. So glad you enjoyed it, Yvette. Don't you love when you can figure it all out? Makes you feel so damn smart. I've got five or six more Cole books to get to this year. (sorry, no dupe copies of any of them.) I hope most of them will live up to the entertainment value of DEAD MAN'S WATCH.

  2. Well, it's kind of hard to fool an old codger who's read as many mysteries as me. :)

    I can't wait to read your reviews, kiddo!

  3. Great review! This book is going on my TBR (and To Be Found) list. Hope the library has it.

    And I could not agree with you more about paper books vs. ebooks.

    Bah! Humbug! That's my opinion of ebooks. When compared to the entire experience of reading real books -- holding them, piling them up near you, putting them on shelves around you, mixed in with pottery, and that you can look at every day -- there is no comparison. (And one can loan real books to friends, one of my favorite hobbies.)

    So I'm a confirmed Luddite! Fine.

    (P.S. I found lots of used copies at Alibris of Rex Stout books for 99 cents plus s&h.)

  4. The book sounds good but your review was even more delightful. They are new authors to me too. [But then so many are, esp when I go thru John's or Bev's blogs :)]

  5. These authors are on my long TBR (and owned) list...haven't gotten my hands on any yet. And your delightful review makes me want to even more.'re preaching to the choir on the whole real book vs. e-book experience. Another thing to throw into the debate....No cool cover art on e-books! And certainly not anything like our marvelous vintage mystery covers. :-)

  6. I'll be a Luddite with you, Kathy. Two dinosaur luddites hanging around the village. Ha!

    Better World Books has a bunch of Nero Wolfe books too and they have free shipping. But the books are usually 3.48 or 3.99 so it evens out with Alibris if they're 99 cents + delivery costs.

    But I noticed that BWB had a bunch of Agatha Christies too. And even some Donna Leons. All used but in good condition. I've bought from them before.

  7. Neer: I KNOW! Isn't it annoying? HA!

    Thanks for the kind words, I'm so glad you enjoyed the review. :)

  8. Bev: Oh, the covers, the covers! Think of all the artists who will be thrown out of work!

    But let's face it, Bev, not much being designed today can compare with our vintage delights of the past. :)

    Maybe John will sell some of his Cole cache.

  9. I haven't read anything by the Coles, but I plan to get around to them. I must admit I'm getting a little frantic about my TBR list. Thanks to the number of book blogs I read and the great recommendations for authors I haven't read yet, the darned list is taking over my life. My first review for Bev's challenge will go up tomorrow. And John is a peach, isn't he?

  10. This was my first too, Carol. I'm always frantic too - join the club!

    Sometimes I feel as if the pressure takes all the fun out of it. But it's really self-imposed pressure, so I try to minimize it as much as I can. :)

    Yes, John is a total peach!

  11. As a Vintage Mystery reader myself, I am always delighted to find new authors. Thanks for sharing!

  12. You're welcome, Willow. This was a new one for me too. I'd never heard of them until John's post.

    It's great to be discovering these older and overlooked writers. It's like bringing them back to life.

  13. Love the idea of a husband and wife mystery-writing team. I had no idea Cole had written fiction--we studied him a bit in one of my British history classes. We were looking at socialism in British historiography. Now I've got to go find his detective stories! Thanks for letting me know about them!

  14. Yvette, I know the covers of today usually don't match the coolness of the vintage covers. What really annoys me is when I do a search on Amazon or Goodreads and the e-version of a CLASSIC mystery (which by golly did have cool cover) comes up, they stick this generic-looking cover up there (white background and just the author and title in, maybe, some colored font, but probably just black and white). The least they could do is advertise with the cool cover art. Sorry...I'll get down off the soapbox now. :-)

  15. Good luck finding them, Lauren. But they're worth looking for.

    I enjoyed this very much. :)

  16. I agree with you completely, Bev. It's sad because what it means to me is that in the long run people will get used to mediocre design.

    Soapbox away. I don't mind. :)


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