Man, when I came across a Popular Library paperback edition of Cottage Sinister by Q Patrick for a mere eight bucks… straight to the top of the pile. This is the first published novel by the writing collective known as Q Patrick, Patrick Quentin, and Jonathan Stagge (in this case, the early incarnation made up of Richard Webb and Martha Kelley). I’ve read one book published under each name up to now, and it was only 1939’s Q Patrick offering of Death and the Maiden that actually left me spinning. Now I rewind eight years to the first Q Patrick title – Cottage Sinister.
I’ll admit it, I was a bit thrown at first. All of the Patrick Quentin (as the collective is most commonly known) novels I’ve read up to this point have been set in the US and are thoroughly what I’d consider US Golden Age mysteries. The UK cottage setting of Cottage Sinister caught me off guard, and there was a clumsiness to the presentation of English village mystery tropes. Had these people ever actually even been to England?
Well, it turns out I’m the fool (not the first time) – Richard Webb was in fact from England (as was his later long term writing partner Hugh Wheeler). If there were any trip ups in the early chapters, I’ll have to account for them as first-novel jitters, rather than my first impression of Americans writing about what they’d only read.
Cottage Sinister is must read, although it’s in no sense a masterpiece. At first impression it’s incredibly enjoyable. At second impression, it’s GADaF.
Where even to begin? Well, you have this quaint country village – the type that captures that verdant cottage essence of Britain which any foreigner would gladly drop everything to inhabit. Not all is right in paradise though: two sisters returning home from London promptly drop dead of poisoning. With the local police force stumped, we see the arrival of The Archdeacon; not a holy man, as the name may suggest, but rather a detective clothed so beautifully in a faux-humble smugness that I’ll gladly read another twenty books featuring the character. Follow with chapters that feel like some long lost Agatha Christie novel and consider me sold.
It’s really everything that you want from this type of story wrapped up with a neat little bow. Top that off with a solution that truly caught me off guard (and predates a similar known-but-not-exactly-famous twist) and I was left a bit stunned. This is one of those books that you finish thinking “damn, that was good”, and then a week later you’re wanting to preach the gospel of. Just to be clear, there’s nothing exceptionally brilliant about this one – don’t think you’ll walk away shell shocked or enamored by some clever jolt – but man, the pure GADness of this is astounding.
Cottage Sinister is very different from anything else I’ve read by Patrick Quentin up to now. I’m getting the sense that I’ll enjoy the earlier novels the most, as they seem to be the most steeped in GAD traditions. Later books seem to be a bit more thriller-y, although I’ve little more than plot descriptions to base that off of. Unfortunately, the early Quentin books are almost impossible to come by. Well, they are available as eBooks from what I’ve seen, but that just doesn’t have the same allure to me.
The 1951 Popular Library edition of Cottage Sinister has a number of humorous quirks. There’s the gorgeous cover, which unfortunately isn’t at all representative of any scene in the book (although it could be if there wasn’t the blood on the piece of paper). Then you have the alluring tagline “were they lovers… or killers?” I was concerned that this was going to prove to be a spoiler to where the plot was headed, but there is hardly a whiff of such a premise in the book.
I long ago learned not to read the back cover synopsis from these old paperback editions. It’s a good thing, as this one oddly fixates on plot twists that occur in the last quarter of the book. You’ve been warned.