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Review in The Toronto Star

Crazy To Kill by the late Stratford author Ann Cardwell was first published in 1941 in the United States, so this is its first Canadian edition. It is introduced by James Reaney who, together with the composer John Beckwith, made it into an opera for the Guelph Spring Festival of 1989. Cardwell's ingenious manoeuvre is to set her tale of multiple murder in a private lunatic asylum called Restholme, and to have one of the inmates as her narrator. This particular patient, Agatha, has been there for 10 years but is, she tells us, due for almost immediate release; because of this she plays a part in the investigation and is privy to all the views of the somewhat clumsy police lieutenant who starts the proceedings and, later, gets on well with a more perceptive detective.

Here we have a case of looking for a needle in a haystack. All the patients are mentally and emotionally disturbed, and several are sporadically given to violence. There appears to be no pattern to the murders, though they are all cunningly performed. The details of the treatment given the patients is fascinating and somewhat primitive by the standards of today, but they are correctly given; the author researched life in the mental hospital of her time and did, indeed, write a series of sketches about it.

AGATHA is a splendid storyteller, observant and witty, with a fine capacity for making acidulous comments about her fellow patients and their nurses and doctors. She chronicles her adventures with real vitality and confesses endearingly to her moments of weakness and fear. A lady of good upbringing, she objects to the vulgarities of the policemen and recognizes her own insecurities. Restholme has, indeed, become her home and she is a little nervous of leaving it. Agatha is a superbly drawn portrait, one of the most interesting of all the women protagonists in detective fiction, and the novel itself is splendidly cunning with a most effective denouement.

It is commonly supposed that the Canadian crime novel hardly existed until very recently. This reprint shows us that Ann Cardwell, who was, in fact, Jean Makins Pawley (1902-1966), was ahead of everybody in writing an ingenious and original crime novel in the '40s, and one that deserves to be called a classic.

The Toronto Star
(MAGAZINE Saturday, June 9, 1990 M15)