Curtis Evans, Golden Age of Detection scholar, is working on an ambitious biography and critical companion book of the round-robin authors and their mysteries published under Q. Patrick, Patrick Quentin, and Jonathan Stagge. Curtis has several excellent pieces already available on his website The Passing Tramp, including a look at Cottage Sinister, which he also categorizes as an underwhelming début. He laments the artificial tone struck by the two American-based writers (even as Webb was born and raised in England):
[F]or whatever reason the pair decided to make their England the deliberately artificial England of books, the England about which they thought the readers, whether in the US or the UK, wanted to read... [M]aybe they succeeded in what they were trying to do, but I think trying to do it in the first place was an error of judgment. It's just too twee really to be.
I have spent the first paragraphs talking about this story’s shortcomings; so what is there to recommend? While there was rarely much interest beyond the academic regarding plot or characterization, Cottage Sinister paradoxically finishes strong, with a clear-eyed dénouement that ties all of the book’s threads together. Webb and Kelly have also concocted an interesting poisoning method, and one that Curtis Evans convincingly argues was likely informed by Webb’s experience working for a pharmaceutical company. It also reminds me of a clever poisoning method in an even splashier début, when Agatha Christie had her Belgian detective investigate The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920).
Finally, let me note that Webb and Kelly’s next mystery, Murder at the Women’s City Club, set in Philadelphia and published the following year, is a marked improvement. Tone, characterization, and plot work in harmony, and the group of suspects are vivacious and nicely delineated. It is also heartening to know that many of these rare Q. Patrick titles are available as eBooks in the U.S. from OpenRoad Media and MysteriousPress.com, while Crippen & Landru Publishers have been curating and reprinting short stories and novellas. With Curtis’s companion volume in the works, it’s a Q. Patrick/Patrick Quentin renaissance.