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Derek Howe Smith
Little his known about the life of this fascinating author. Born July 4th 1926 in the borough of Lambeth, South London, Derek Smith was an avid fan and collector of British boys’ books and had a huge and expansive collection of mystery fiction. Apparently, he lived in the same house all of his life. Living with his mother until her death, after a long period of illness, and never married.
Derek was drafted into the army at the end of WWII, and served in Italy and Bulgaria as a radio operator before being invalided out due to some form of lung problem. He lived on disability for the rest of his life.
Besides his famous classic, ‘Whistle up the Devil’ (1953), Derek also wrote a novel called ‘Come to Paddington Fair’ (1997) and a Sexton Blake novella called ‘Model for Murder’, but never found a publisher for either of these works. ‘Come to Paddington Fair’ was eventually published in Japan, in both English and Japanese editions. It is not a true locked room mystery, but clearly has an impossible crime motif.
Derek Smith apparently died in December of 2002, leaving many holes in his biographical data. The best resources for further information on Derek Smith are the introduction to the Omnibus by Robert Adey, and a collection of impressions gathered by Patrick of at-scene-0f-crime.blogspot.ca – most of which are re-posted on Gadetection. This page includes several comments by another acquaintance of Derek Smith, Ralph Spurrier of Post Mortem Books, and a few uncited comments made by Bill Pronzini, who met Derek at Bouchercon.
The Derek Smith Omnibus
Detectives: Algy Lawrence / Sexton Blake
Locked Room Review
Available in ebook and paperback editions.
Note: All Derek Smith’s work in one volume.
The Derek Smith Omnibus contains all three of his novels as well as his only short story.
The first novel ‘Whistle Up The Devil’ is one of the most famous locked room masterpieces of all time. It introduces Algy Lawrence, a brilliant young man who has already worked with the police as an amateur sleuth prior to this appearance.
The plot hinges on a “family secret”, passed from father to son, a month before the son’s wedding, within the Querrin family. This secret concerns a room within the family residence, called “The Room of Passage“, which has been the scene of an old tragedy.
On this occasion, the secret is passed from Peter Querrin to his son, Roger, who is engaged to Audrey. Roger decides to revive, and finally discredit, this old family tradition. He will “blow the whistle to the Devil” by spending a night in the haunted room. Algy Lawrence, Peter Querrin, and Sergeant Harding, sent by Chief Inspector Castle of Scotland Yard, all stand on vigilant guard, making it quite impossible for anyone to enter – but at midnight Roger is still stabbed with the same dagger that was used in the family legend – and a second locked room mystery soon follows.
This is truly an amazing novel, that simply can’t be put down. All the clues are clearly given and there is also a very famous Locked Room Lecture in Chapter 5, which rivals those of Carr, Boucher, and Rawson.
The second novel is ‘Come To Paddington Fair’ and also involves Algy Lawrence. It is not a traditional locked room tale, instead it is more of an impossible crime, but it is still a compelling mystery.
Chief Inspector Castle anonymously receives two front row tickets for the performance of a play. Intrigued, he invites Algy to accompany him to the theatre. The play gradually moves towards the climax, where a stage actress is shot dead – but this time it is no act. She is murdered right in front of the entire audience. At first, the police reach the obvious conclusion and arrest the apparent shooter, but when he is finally ruled out, and all the other members of the cast are alibied, it finally becomes clear that this is truly an impossible crime! There is a brilliant twist in the final pages that is guaranteed to surprise most readers. It may not be a locked room classic, like his first effort, but it is still a very good impossible mystery read.
The third novel, ‘Model For Murder’, involves Smith’s other detective, Sexton Blake. The very first Sexton Blake story was ‘The Missing Millionaire’, written by Hal Meredith (aka Harry Blyth), in the Penny Dreadful: The Halfpenny Marvel number 6, on 20 December 1893. Since then Blake has appeared in innumerable print forms of every description, hundreds of hours of radio drama, and a long list of silent and sound films, written by an even longer list of authors. Unfortunately, Derek Smith does not bring much to this long tradition .
Linda Martin is a model employed by a sculptor named Garvary. Miss Martin arrives at the house of Sexton Blake, asking for his assistance with a series of anonymous threatening letters that Garvary has been receiving. Blake’s assistant then accompanies Linda to Garvary’s flat, but as they approach the house, Garvary opens the door, then immediately closes it, and refuses to answer. When the door is finally forced open, Garvary is found murdered.
While it is a locked room murder, it certainly lacks the ingenuity of ‘Whistle Up The Devil’. There are a few twists and some fairly good misdirection, but it quite simply doesn’t work very well. The only good reason to include this title is to make your complete collection.
The Imperfect Crime (Short Story)
In addition to the three novels, the Omnibus contains a rather amusing short crime story of about seven pages, that tells the tale of an almost perfect murder plan – where the murderer just got one small point wrong!