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The Cut Direct

Page history last edited by J F Norris 13 years, 1 month ago

Tilton, Alice - The Cut Direct (1938)


Leonidas Witherall is struck by a vehicle no less than two times in the opening chapter of this mystery farce. He survives both accidents with little injury just like Wile E. Coyote in the old Roadrunner cartoons. The book is a cartoon, in fact. An adult cartoon similar to the screwball comedy films of Howard Hawks and Preston Sturges.  Tilton/Taylor does an excellent job of immediately creating a world when anything can and usually will happen.  As Witherall says at the opening of Chapter 11: "Boundless. Simply boundless possibilities."


Witherall finds himself inexplicably coming to consciousness (for the second time) in the study of a strange home. Opposite him, in an overstuffed armchair, is the dead body of Bennington Brett who has been stabbed with a carving knife.  It turns out that Brett is a former schoolmate of Witherall's and through some clever work he discovers he is in the home of Brett - or rather his uncle, a wheel-dealing businessman in the community of Dalton, Massachusetts.  The plot concerns itself less with who killed Brett and why and more  on several zany incidents that incorporate farcical impersonation, the use of disguises, lots of lying and storytelling to the police, and pages of banter-like dialogue.  It's the absurdity that runs the story here and not detection or crime solving.


That Leonidas Witherall is a dead ringer for William Shakespeare, that nearly everyone calls him Bill and takes every opportunity to quote the bard's work in front of him, should tell you the overall tone of these books.  Of course we will discover whodunit, but it's almost an afterthought.  My feeling is that Taylor created this persona of "Alice Tilton" to have some fun while writing and create loony situations, to try her hand at what many screenwriters at the time were doing.


The crime and all the coincidence surrounding it may strain the credibility of many readers.  It involves a landowner scheme with Witherall ending up center stage as both a potential murder victim and as an unknowing heir to a real estate windfall.  The identity of the killer may be somewhat of a surprise, but the revelation of the killer is handled in the usual comic manner.  It seems that it really doesn't matter to Tilton who was responsible. The farce takes over in these books.  It seems to be the only reason they were written.


J F Norris

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