Poison in Play

Wimbledon by Andrew Power (1933)

"Aw, hell, Tony!" said one of the intoxicated young women, lounging across and knocking the empty glass off the top of the piano, "Jazz it up, boy, I'm a hep cat in a zoot suit . . . "

"With a neat pleat," said Jack Priestman, back by the piano.


Nancy Spain (described in The Independent as a 'visible lesbian') worked as a journalist, editor, radio and tv broadcaster in London during the 1950s and 1960s. Her 1945 crime novel Poison in Play is a dashing meld of competition tennis, journalism, queer culture and dodgy science.

In the book's dedication, Spain explains her preferred murder mysteries are '... the kind where the characters and background are more important than the crime itself.'  In this novel, someone is murdered during a tennis match at Wimbledon, and manly journalist Jack Priestman and shrinking violet Frances Olsen team up to solve the crime. The interest and excitement in the story comes from the places they go and the people they see - tennis stars, sports promoters, nightclub owners, ballet dancers, bohemians and "queers".

Eventually the crime is solved, after Mr Priestman and Miss Olsen receive much-needed assistance from the Australian ex-wrestler and nightclub owner, Johnny DuVivien.

DuVivien reflected on the time wasted in modern murder stories by Love Interest. Action was his middle name, he decided.


That's right, Johnny. While Mr Priestman and Miss Olsen are off-stage with their Love Interest, Johnny is right there making the plot happen. When they return, there's only time for a few improbable plot twists and leaps of deduction before the murder is solved.

High on character, low on plot. Interesting and rather fun, but not wonderful.

Poison in Play by Nancy Spain, Hutchinson's Universal Book Club (?1945).