The Death of Mr. Dodsley by John Ferguson – Review

The Death of Mr. Dodsley by John Ferguson Review logo

By Sandra Callard

In an era when modern literature often takes on gritty realism and explicit language, John Ferguson’s The Death of Mr. Dodsley, a hidden gem from the British Library’s Crime Classics reissue series, takes readers on a charming journey back to the refined days of the 1930s. Published originally in 1937, this novel offers not just a glimpse but a full immersion into the norms and manners of its time.

Set primarily within a quaint bookshop nestled on London’s iconic Charing Cross Road, Ferguson’s narrative revolves around the lives of its genteel staff, who wake up one fateful morning to the grim sight of their employer, Mr. Dodsley, lying lifeless on the shop’s floor, the victim of an apparent gunshot wound. As the police descend upon the scene, readers are introduced to a world where detective work was a far cry from today’s forensic precision, yet this antiquated approach only serves to enhance the book’s charm.

Ferguson masterfully captures the ambiance of the time, when methods and ideas were strikingly less sophisticated compared to the present day. But far from being a nostalgic throwback, The Death of Mr. Dodsley offers an authentic portrayal of its contemporary period, creating a true glimpse of the fairly recent past.

As the murder investigation unfolds, the disparities in societal positions become glaringly evident, emphasizing the significance of class and station in that era. Ferguson deftly portrays a world where individuals are treated in accordance with their social standing, and the impending Second World War looms on the horizon, promising both upheaval and transformation.

The Death of Mr. Dodsley by John Ferguson Review cover“A gentler time”

What truly sets this novel apart is its compelling cast of characters. They are meticulously crafted, and their distinctive personalities leap off the pages. One can almost hear their voices as they navigate through the story. These characters are unmistakably of their time, with dialogue and actions that transport readers to a bygone era. In retrospect, they represent the last vestiges of their epoch, and while some of their words and actions may feel antiquated, they remain accessible and comprehensible, offering a refreshing departure from contemporary narratives.

The Death of Mr. Dodsley is a leisurely, delightful, and captivating read with a solid and engaging narrative populated by characters who feel both interesting and authentic. In an age where the boundaries of acceptability are constantly pushed in literature, this book stands as a testament to a gentler time, where polite language was the norm.

In conclusion, The Death of Mr. Dodsley by John Ferguson is a literary time capsule, offering readers a delightful opportunity to immerse themselves in the refined charm of the 1930s – albeit in the guise of a murder mystery. It’s a book that warrants a place on the bookshelves of those seeking a literary escape, a solid reminder of days gone by, still within our grasp, and all the more delightful for it.

‘The Death of Mr. Dodsley’ by John Ferguson is published by the British Library


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