John Ferguson – ‘The Grouse Moor Mystery’ (1934)

Original UK dust wrapper design

This is the first book that I read by John Ferguson, author of ten rather diverse criminous novels published between 1918 and 1942 and so it seemed appropriate to make it the first to be reviewed here. The Grouse Moor Mystery (1934) was the third of his titles to be published by Collins Crime Club, after Death Comes to Perigord (1931) and Night in Glengyle (1933), and the fourth to feature his series detective Francis McNab., crime reporter and amateur criminologist. The debut McNab mystery The Man In The Dark (1928) had been published by John Lane and the second Murder On The Marsh (1930) by The Bodley Head. (note: Night In Glengyle does not feature McNab).

UK 1st Edition

The action takes place in the Scottish highlands and the local police take centre stage for the first half of the book, investigating the death of one of the guests of a local tenant.

The first attempt on his life, which takes place during a grouse-shooting party on a misty day, appears at first to be simply an accident caused by recklessness and,although he is injured it does not prove fatal. Later, however, as he appears to be recovering from his injuries, he is found dead in a library with the doors and windows fastened and the case seems to be one of suicide. Enter McNab, summoned by the local Superintendent at the behest of the dead man’s mother. He installs himself in the house undercover as the family lawyer and begins to weed out the suspects. His method in this case is primarily based on investigating motives and attempting to construct theories to fit them to possible actions, rather than the inductive method preferred by Dr. Thorndyke or Dr. Priestley. However, his persistence in attempting to discover communications between the guilty parties and a nice trick with hidden messages do enable him to eventually solve the case, though the locked room solution is certainly not one of the more impressive or brilliant of the golden age.

UK 1st Edition

Along the way, there is some nice local colour and creating atmosphere is certainly one of Ferguson’s strengths as a writer. He also mostly avoids populating his characters speech with local idioms that might be hard to follow and can be frustrating to some readers. However, his writing style is a little clunky – for instance using the same noun three times in one sentence when alternate words could be used to make reading easier. He also appears to be occasionally unaware of correct English usage – ‘fine tooth-comb’ instead of ‘fine-toothed comb’ grates badly. A conscientious editor or proof-reader would surely have improved things. All in all though, this was still interesting enough to make this reviewer willing to search out his other books. Fortunately the very rare Death Of Mr Dodsley (1938) which is the next and final McNab mystery is due to be reprinted in the British Library Crime Classic imprint in February 2023.

Diagram from UK 1st Edition

One big plus for this book is that it comes in one of the most striking dust wrappers of the golden age – from Youngman Carter, husband and collaborator of Margery Alligham and author of two later Campion books – and looks wonderful on the shelf. He had earlier illustrated the jacket for Night In Glengyle, which is also a fine piece of work.

Front of UK 1st Edition

Carter’s other work includes jackets for John Rhode’s Poison For One and Carter Dickson’s Death In Five Boxes as well as many for Margery Allingham.

Title page of UK 1st Edition

Rating 6.5/10

Frances McNab book #4

Preceded by Death Comes To Perigord

Suceeded by Death Of Mr. Dodsley

Synopsis from UK 1st Edition

Collectors Notes

A paperback and ebook edition of this novel was released by Coachwhip Publications in 2017 and is still available.

The book is available to read in full on the HathiTrust website:

First Edition Details


Originally published by Collins Crime Club 1934

Orange cloth boards pp 255 + 1p Adverts, 8vo

Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘The Crime Club’ stamped in black at bottom.

Title and author stamped in black on front.

Dustwrapper priced at 7/6 net on spine.

1 x Map (p. 6)


Cover of US 1st Edition

Originally published as ‘The Grouse Moor Murder’ by Dodd, Mead & co., New York 1934

Green cloth boards pp 282

Dustwrapper priced at $2

R E Faust


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