And Good by Stealth may very well be a bit of an outlier within the author's oeuvre, just as it is when compared to its more traditional brethren in the field of detective fiction. Reporting the story in extended flashback, narrator Miss Alice explains her altruistic motives behind sending a score of anonymous poison-pen letters to the residents of Lush Mellish. In doing so, she gets to state her defense to the reader, a process she is convinced was denied her during the official court trial. So we know the crime and the criminal (for Miss Alice would be the culprit awaiting her last-chapter reveal were this a traditionally structured story), and we know the verdict of court and community. What is left, then, is wondering what led up to these acts and whether there was any possible justification. And also just how much sympathy, if any, we should feel for Miss Alice herself.
As a character study, the defiant antihero at the center of this tale is an impressive creation, and Vahey/Clandon imbues Miss Alice with a neat balance of self-pity and obstinacy as she recounts her spiritual battle with the village and its citizens. In her telling, she is the victim, forced to endure the prejudices, caprices, and hypocrisy of her neighbors. Yet even as Miss Alice pleads her innocence to the reader, her actions tell a different story: she campaigns against having the town doyenne's children sing the leads in the annual choral performance; she encourages her bull terrier to terrorize a neighbor's cat; and it is naturally with the purest of motives that she starts to mail unsigned letters to people whom she believes could stand to improve, in morals and behavior. If a marriage engagement is broken or an overemotional girl takes her own life as the result of a well-intentioned letter, that is hardly Miss Alice's fault.
This (hopefully singular) thematic unpleasantness aside, I am intrigued enough by John George Hazlette Vahey's work that I look forward to trying another title: I already have a copy of The Essex Murders (1930), published under his Collins Crime Club pseudonym Vernon Loder, and can't wait to read it. Sincere thanks to Dean Street Press for returning to print four of his Henrietta Clandon books -- hoping that the remaining three HC titles might join the reprint fold -- and for introducing me to yet another "new" author from mystery fiction's Golden Age.
Les at Classic Mysteries has an audio review of this title available; check it out!