"The Scarlet Sword," by H. E. Bates. (Michael Joseph, London, 12/3). "Mr. Denning Drives North, by
Alec Coppel. (Harrap, Lon- don: Copy from Australasian Publishing Co., Sydney, 1 2/3 ) . "Murder in Mid-Atlantic," by Elizabeth Antill. (Hammond, Hammond, London, 10/9). "The Flying Red Horse," by Frances Crane. (Hammond, Hammond, London, 10/9). A TALE of the horrors that befall a Catholic mission station in Kashmir when it is attacked by tribesmen during the riots and massacres of 1947, "The Scarlet Sword" is a typical H. E. Bates novel of violence and suffering.
It has a series of brilliant characterisations, a mounting tension, a sprinkling of wry comedy and a suspicion of romantic interest. Admittedly, it's a novel writ- ten to formula, but Mr. Bates does this sort of thing supremely well — remember his "The Purple Plain" and "The Jaca- randa Tree," with Burma as the setting? At the mission station Mr. Bates writes about are two priests, a number of nuns, Sikh and Hindu women and children,
and a handful of British people. Just before the attack they are joined by a war correspon- dent who plays a major part in the events that follow, and an inscrutable Hindu beauty from the red light quarter of Bombay. When the attack comes, the flabby, forgetful, blundering Father Simpson, the younger of the two priests, becomes al- most haphazardly a tower of strength during the days and nights of panic and pain. Stumbling through the mas- sacre and the later occupation of the mission, he achieves a rare spiritual glory. With the unbending strength of old Father Anstey and the remarkable courage and forti- tude of the nuns and nurses, the survivors of the Pathans' raid come through a soul-sear- ing experience to a future that has been considerably changed for most of them.
Mr. Bates gives his readers a stirring experience in his re- cital of triumph after near- despair. ALEC COPPEL, writer of that ingenious play, "I Killed the Count," has produced a re- markably interesting thriller plot in "Mr. Denning Drives North." Although we know that Mr. Denning has killed a man—and it was not a case of deliberate murder—the suspense is main- tained not by his trying to escape arrest after a "perfect" crime, but by the mysterious disappearance of the body. The horribly harassed'Mr. Denning's eventual confession to his understanding wife, and their joint efforts to find the body of their daughter's gigolo suitor, whom Mr. Denning has killed with a blow and carted away in the huge boot of his Rolls Royce, make grimly humorous reading. Then an American lawyer friend, blundering into the affair, learns the secret of the missing body, and almost brings about Mr. Denning's downfall. This is a pleasantly written, sophisticated story for those who like a thriller to be diffe- rent. THE other mystery stories to hand, though, are the good, old-fashioned type which have come to be accepted as the traditional "whodunit." In "Murder in Mid-Atlantic" we have the usual small collec- tion of people, this time on a passenger-cargo ship. The most unpleasant and most disliked passenger—a brassy blonde—is murdered, and the least likely person to be sus- pected is the guilty party, for a motive that the author tries, not too successfully, to keep hidden. Frances Crane continues on her workmanlike way with another Pat and Jean Abbott murder mystery in "The Flying Red Horse," which gets its title from a huge illuminated sign on the skyline of Dallas, Texas, where murder among the oil millionaires this time engages he attention of the devastat- ingly bright and smart Abbotts.