Very little information is available on the Internet regarding Cecil M. Wills (full name Maitland Cecil Melville Wills 1891-1966), author of approximately twenty-five mystery novels published in the period between 1934 and 1961. A brief biographical note on the Classic Crime Fiction website mentions his two main series characters, both policemen. His early books feature Chief Inspector (later Supt.) Geoffrey Boscobell, apparently a humane officer ‘whose ethical conduct is as well-loved by the general public as it is disliked by his chief at Scotland Yard.’ Boscobell featured in 13 books, though halfway through the series tragedy struck when his wife and child were abducted and disappeared. Boscobell, devastated by the loss, resigned from the police force and set himself up as a private investigator for the remainder of the books which feature him.
Wills later books featured Chief Inspector Roger Ellerdine, who had actually appeared alongside Boscobell in his final 3 mysteries The Case Of R E Pipe (1940), The Clue Of The Lost Hour (1949) and The Clue Of The Golden Ear-Ring (1950). Ellerdine was was ably assisted by Detective Sergeant ‘Cherry’ Blossom. It appears that his books were not published contemporaneously in the United States, a situation which the Classic Crime Fiction site remarks as strange ‘given the above average quality of his work’.
‘Death in the Dark’ (1955) is an Ellerdine/Blossom mystery, which features those two detectives enjoying a holiday in New Zealand after working on a case in Australia, presumably in the previous book Death On The Line. Determined to see all the country has to offer they decide to join a privately organized sightseeing tour. However, the apparently carefree trip takes a sinister turn when, after the detectives narrowly escape an attempt on their lives, one of the party dies from prussic acid poisoning. The duo discover there is no shortage of potential murderers among the group, including two shady characters who had a grudge against the victim and a rich widow with a secret to hide.
The local topographical features of New Zealand are certainly described in much detail and at times the book ventures close to territory more usually the preserve of the travel writer. Thankfully, this never overpowers the detective element which, though rather slight, is sufficiently well handled to maintain the interest of the reader to the end. Although the book ends a little abruptly and there are a couple of elements of the mechanism of the crime which may test the credulity of the more experienced mystery reader, there is enough quality here to persuade the crime fiction aficionado that this is an author who might reward further investigation. I do have one Boscobell mystery which I hope to review soon but I will certainly be keeping an eye out for more mysteries by this author.
Chief Inspector Ellerdine #6
Preceded by Death On The Line
Succeeded by Midsummer Murder
No record of any modern reprint, ebook or audiobook has been traced by the reviewer.
First Edition Details
Originally published by Hutchinson & co. ltd
Light Brown Cloth Boards pp 192, 8vo
Title and Author stamped in black on spine. ‘Hutchinson’ stamped in black at bottom.
Pictorial noose stamped in black on lower half of spine.
Dustwrapper details unknown
No record of any contemporaneous US edition has been traced by the reviewer.
R E Faust
Please leave any comment, corrections or suggestions below.
I’ve read a few by Wills based on being impressed by Midsummer Murder. The Dead Voice is OK, but The other two – The Case Of The Empty Beehive and It Pays To Die – were quite dull.
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Don’t have those, though I do have the Boscobell mystery ‘Defeat Of A Detective’ (1935) which I’ll try and review soon.
That’s the one that, I think, is cited as his best. Or possibly the only one people have read…
Probably the latter lol but it’s an interesting one as it comes just after he leaves the police and sets up as a private detective.