The Templeton Case: A Detective Story

Written by Victor L. Whitechurch

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

The Templeton Case: A Detective Story
RRP: £12.99
Released: February 13, 2022

Victor L Whitechurch wrote seven detective novels in the last nine years of his life: he died in 1933. The Templeton Case was the first, in 1924, twelve years after his ‘rivals of Sherlock Holmes’ anthology Thrilling Stories of the Railway. Given that Whitechurch himself was a clergyman, and a Canon of Frattenbury (a thinly disguised Chichester) Cathedral plays a large part in the book, it is surprisingly modern, to the extent that the heroine wonders if she is to be told that she is illegitimate when being given details of her background.

A yacht draws into one of the river mouths on the south coast; the deck-hand goes off for the night leaving the owner planning to walk into the city. If he entered the city he must have returned in one way or another for the next morning when the deck-hand returns his master is lying dead, stabbed, on the cabin floor.

A young man who was staying in the village inn has left at first-light unexpectedly, while the businessman who owns the mansion on the opposite bank has also left for London at short notice. Only one gentleman, who also has a house facing the river, is left in the locality. It is he who becomes the chairman of the coroner’s jury when the inquest is convened in the village pub. Though the coroner asks some probing questions the police have no desire to show their hand – they have one piece of evidence, and the Canon (who is a cousin of the victim) soon hands over another. The Chief Constable gives control to the Superintendent, who in turn works closely with Detective-Sergeant Colson, whose thinking we follow closely until near the end of the book.

Colson assumes he has just three suspects, and investigates each in turn, based on their likelihood. Whitechurch manages to reverse positions – the evidence apparently against them is also reason for their not wishing to get involved: one has seen an earlier court case result in an unjust verdict, a Jewish diamond broker fears being stereotyped as a villain: only one character is able to stand up to the police, while his confidence leads them to suspect him of tampering with evidence. While this goes on we also learn that the victim was not wealthy, but as we still don’t know the murderer we don’t know how this will affect the murderer’s plans, nor how this does or does not benefit the victim’s heir. That makes it good edge-of-the-chair reading.

Ten years later John Rhode was to use the yacht approach and mooring in Shot At Dawn, where the ebb and flow of the tides definitely matters. The swapping of rowing boats and canoes plays a similar role in The Templeton Case, though Colson’s investigation is rather clumsier than that Rhodes’ Dr Priestly.

Whitechurch has also has a puzzle running: a message (or fractions of it) carried on a sheet of blotting paper, and the solution to this ultimately ties up to another strand of the story (the young woman who asks whether she might be illegitimate). Agatha Christie may have carried that idea for fifty years before using it herself, posthumously, in Sleeping Murder, her last Miss Marple novel.

All in all, The Templeton Case has lots of plot-lines running, manages to combine them for extra puzzlement at times, and at others makes their contradictions infuriatingly fascinating. That is all while the fastest means of transporting a message is frequently a boy from the village riding into town on a bicycle carrying a note. How many villages have a boy with a bicycle these days if the 5G ‘phone signal disappears? And how many of us can tell a knife from a dagger? Probably not many, but it matters in The Templeton Case.


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