Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Murderer's Fen - Andrew Garve

First published 1966; cover shown is an ex-library copy of the first edition (Collins Books, UK).

Alan Ford is a psychopath. He is also a caravan salesman and has strikingly good looks, youth and charm. What he doesn't have is money. But that will change when he marries Susan, a very well-off, plain looking woman who is grateful for any attention she can get.

The novel opens with Ford holidaying alone in Norway. Seeing a beautiful English girl arriving at his hotel with her parents, Ford fights his attraction to her for a day or so before planning and executing a seduction which borders on rape. He then gives her a fake address, tells her he will visit her as soon as he can, and returns to England: "One more attractive virgin notched up - and a clean getaway."

Back home in England, Ford is treating his courtship of Susan like a game, exerting the least amount of effort required to show just enough affection to keep her happy. Ford has two short weeks left before the marriage and the end of his money problems when the unthinkable happens: Gwenda, the girl from Norway, traces him to the caravan sales site. She's pregnant, she doesn't want to get rid of it (Hunt's first suggestion) and she insists on marriage.

The caravan sales site is situated next to Ocken Fen, a large nature reserve filled with swampy marshes, bogs and drains. Hunt had always resented the "dreary" view of the fen from his office, but now he realises that it is the perfect place to hide a body...

A few days later, the local police receive an anonymous letter. Someone in a bird hide had seen a man and a girl walk into Ocken Fen late at night. The man walked back out; the girl did not. Sergeant Tom Dyson begins investigating, and his first stop is the caravan site. Hunt acknowledges Gwenda visited him, and he even gives the police her full name and address, telling them that he barely knew her but he believes she was suicidal. He then tells them he actually drove Gwenda home that evening, to make sure she was safe.

A check in Gwenda's home town reveals that Hunt seems to have been telling the truth. His car had been seen in her parent's street on the night in question. But Dyson is sure Hunt is lying, and he is equally sure that Gwenda has been murdered. A search of the fen reveals birdwatchers, angry mallard ducks... and a freshly filled-in grave. Dyson believes this is the end of the line, but digging reveals nothing more than a large piece of bog oak. Who would go to the trouble of burying a log - and why?

Meanwhile Hunt is placating Susan and her parents and pulling the biggest scam of his life. Because Gwenda isn't dead... at least not yet she's not.

Andrew Garve was a pseudonym for prolific British writer Paul Winterton (1908 - 2001).


Gladdog said...

How wonderful to find such an informative and enjoyable blog on crime fiction, I am afraid my knowledge of this subject is really rather limited to only the more renowned authors such as Christie, Chesterton and my favourite Gladys Mitchell. Please carry on your good work I for one appreciate it. Gladdog.

The Face at the Window said...

Thanks for the kind words Gladdog! I'm a huge Christie fan as well, but have refrained from reviewing any of her work so far as there are so many lesser-known mystery/crime writers who deserve some recognition. I hope to be reviewing 'The Man Who Was Thursday' by Chesterton soon. Thanks again!