Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, February 29, 2024


 Inspector West Takes Charge by John Creasey (1942)

In this, the first of 43 mysteries featuring Inspector (later Superintendent) Roger West of Scotland Yard, John Creasey sets the template for one of his most popular series.  Previous to this Creasey had published over 80 mystery novels and, if they did include a policeman, he was a secondary character.  By 1940, Creasey had gotten to know and had become friends with a number of Scotland Yard policemen.  He felt it was high time he created a character who was as close to a real policeman as possible.

Enter Roger West, a man as realistic as the times and the market would allow.  West was Creasey's idealized policeman, a man of compassion and a man with an unswerving instinct to do what is right.  West was the youngest inspector in the CID and his sense of idealism did not diminish over the next 36 years.  His good looks earned him the sobriquet "Handsome."  His basic sense of decency earned his the respect of his fellow officers, both those above and those below him.  In this first book, West has an understanding young wife, Janet.  They would eventually have two sons, Richard ("Scoop") and Martin ("Fish") -- which happened to be the names of two of Creasey's sons and the source of the pen name he used for his Commander George Gideon novels, "J. J. Marric."  Writing of this first novel, Punch called West "a likable young slop," and famed Scotland Yard Inspector Robert Fabian said, "He behaves much like I would behave."

Inspector West Takes Charge starts with the death of three members of the Prendergast family, owners of the Dreem cigarette company.  Old Septimus Prendergast drowned in his swimming pool; his passing was recorded as death by misadventure.  Three weeks later, his son Monty fell off a cliff in Cornwall; in the absence of any contrary evidence, this became another death by misadventure.  The family fortune then went to Waverley Prendergast, who had been the victim of a hit and run.  Also, death by misadventure.  The money and the company now went to Claude Prendergast, a rather weak-willed man who had recently married Maisie, a cold and scheming woman who assumed control over her husband.  West is convinced the murder has been done and is obsessed with the case.

West's best friend, Mark Lessing, who often assists West unofficially, has been making inquiries for West.  Two thugs invaded Lessing's flat and attacked him, then  search the apartment thoroughly.  Lessing had hinted in a news interview that he knew more than he really did and the raid on his apartment was the result.  Enter the unscrupulous attorney Gabriel Potter (another character who appears in  the early West novels).  It turns out that Maisie has hired Potter.  Potter also represents a known criminal who West had brought in for the attack on Lessing.  Potter gives his client an alibi and suggests that West look at another known criminal for the attack.  Is it a coincidence that that criminal was then killed in a deliberate hit and run?

Claude Prendergast is getting nervous.  He fears his wife knows more about the deaths in the family than she is admitting to.  He believes that Maisie may be out to kill him.  Maisie meanwhile has located an unknown relative of Claude, a cousin who she tries to convince to take over the family business.  Blackmail, murder, and the control of a large estate keep the wheels turning in this mystery.  There's plenty of action and more than a few twists before Roger West wraps up the case.

A good start to a storied fictional career.

Thirteen years later, Creasey created another realistic and humane police detective, Commander George Gideon.  A number of critics feel that Gideon was Creasey's greatest character.  If so, it was because Roger West led the way.

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