Malcolm Munro, the son of the Chairman of Munro Motors drove into a hostile situation. The workers were being whipped up to fever pitch by the antics of a Union official, Mike Grannett. Violence ensued and there was an altercation between Munro and Grannett’s younger brother which resulted in the latter being rushed to hospital, where he died. All of the striking workers were, of course, going to provide hostile testimony as to Munro’s actions. Chief Inspector Roger West of Scotland Yard is charged with the investigation. Can he save Munro from a murder conviction, or have the workers got it right? Just what is the truth?
John Creasey (September 17, 1908 - June 9, 1973) was born in Southfields, Surrey, England and died in New Hall, Bodenham, Salisbury Wiltshire, England. He was the seventh of nine children in a working class home. He became an English author of crime thrillers, published in excess of 600 books under 20+ different pseudonyms. He invented many famous characters who would appear in a whole series of novels. Probably the most famous of these is Gideon of Scotland Yard, the basis for the television program Gideon's Way but others include Department Z, Dr. Palfrey, The Toff, Inspector Roger West, and The Baron (which was also made into a television series). In 1962, Creasey won an Edgar Award for Best Novel, from the Mystery Writers of America, for Gideon's Fire, written under the pen name J. J. Marric. And in 1969 he was given the MWA's highest honor, the Grand Master Award.
The Killing Strike (originally Strike for Death; 1958) by John Creasey finds Chief Inspector Roger "Handsome" West with his hands full of a situation at Monro Motors, Ltd. In the wake of a successful Mark 9 proto-type, the men on the lines are demanding a pay increase. They believe its time that they share in the profits their hard work produces for Monro Motors. Sir Ian Munro doesn't agree--the profits haven't even started coming in yet, so now is not the time for pay increases. Tensions are high and the air is thick with bitterness on both sides. Then Malcolm Munro, son of the company head, comes driving up in his shiny Rolls-Bentley, right in the middle of a speech by one of the leaders on the workers side. A scuffle with old oranges occurs and then Malcolm finds himself in a fist-fight with one of the men.
Michael Grannett, spokesman for the men, looks to use what he calls an attack on his brother by Malcolm to strengthen the workers' case...but Roy Grannett dies and Inspector West is sent to the factory to sort things out. He must walk a fine line--If he shows what the men consider to be favoritism towards management, then there will be a bitter strike. If he ticks off management by "coddling" the workers, then that could go badly as well. But as his boss, Knightley, says
We've got to see justice done, none of this one law for the rich or one law for the poor kind of stuff, and we've got to lean over backwards to make sure that the director [Malcolm] isn't whitewashed. No one told me, and no one's telling you, but there's a possibility of a lot of trouble if this badly handled, especially if it's something to do with a strike.
The Board at Munro Motors naturally want West to waltz in take one look around and declare Grannett's death an unfortunate accident (the poor boy fell down and hit his head too hard, or some such thing). But it doesn't take West long to discover that something is just not right. When Grannett was brought to the factory nurse, he was hurt, sure, but not so much that he should have died. She's quite certain of that. The autopsy reveals that the initial injury (from falling backward onto the hard ground) is overlaid by blow from our old friend, the blunt instrument--most likely a hammer. The evidence (and the body count) builds until West is able to discern the larger plot behind the death of a strike rabble-rouser. And, of course, our hero manages to collar the villain and avoid a general strike.
Before I plunge into my thoughts on the story--an observation: why do some detective novelists insist on giving their detectives (and generally policemen) the nickname "Handsome"? Here, we have West given the moniker and, of course, there is Ngaio Marsh's Inspector Roderick Alleyn. And I'm quite sure I've come across a few others in my 40-ish years of mystery reading. I thought it was the criminals who were supposed to be the plug-uglies. Is it really so unusual for a policeman to be presentable that his colleagues need to slap a nickname on those that are?
This is my third Inspector West novel and I do enjoy them. Creasey keeps the action coming and manages to keep a good balance between straight police procedural and classic puzzle plots. The motives behind the killings are believable and the investigation rings true. If I have any real complaints, it's that the body count in these novels are a bit high and the murders are sometimes more vicious than my standard Golden Age fare. That said, these are highly enjoyable detective novels and I'm quite pleased that someone donated a whole slew of them for me to grab up at this year's community book sale.
First posted on my blog My Reader's Block. Please request permission before reposting. Thanks.
I’ve written before about how I enjoy John Creasey books because they give a glimpse of how things used to be. This Inspector West novel is no exception, written as it was in the post war period and giving nods to the some of the political issues of this cold-war period, as well as highlighting how big industry was modernising and showing us the conflicts and pressures between capital and labour which were sometimes the result of that. The series of murders in this crime drama were based in a large manufacturing factory and suspects included both management and workers but Creasey’s Liberal politics ensured both sides were given a fair hearing and once the criminals had been revelled, made sure the reader was given a message about how we as a society could work together to ensure an efficient and prosperous future.
This is the first John Creasey novel I've read but it won't be the last. I liked his snappy style of writing, spare but sharp and concise. This involves a series of deaths at a car factory and weaves a touch of social commentary and look at industrial relations into a tale of greed, madness and rivalry.