I was browsing at a foundering used bookstore when I came across two mysteries by C. H. B. Kitchin, Death of My Aunt and Death of His Uncle, in scruffy 1980s Perennial paperbacks. The bookstore owner, who favored a hard sell and attached the word “classic” to every book I scrutinized, claimed they were crime “classics.” Whether true or not, I was intrigued by the clever titles, and once home stacked them in the place of honor on the bedside table. That night I perused a few (slightly foxed) pages of Death of My Aunt and put it aside. Ditto with Death of His Uncle.
Could books with such whimsical titles actually be dull?
Perhaps I wasn’t in the right mood, I thought cheerily the next morning. I was sure I would read them someday. And indeed, I thought someday had come when I snapped up a British Library edition of The Murder of My Aunt.
The Murder of My Aunt is a a mildly entertaining mystery – but a third of the way through I realized that it was not Kitchin’s aunt mystery at all – it was by Richard Hull! Kitchin’s book is called Death of My Aunt.
I felt cross. “How dare they screw around with titles, and wasn’t this some kind of plagiarism?” (though perhaps that doesn’t apply to titles). Kitchin’s aunt book was published in 1929, and Hull’s followed in 1934.
Feeling cheated, I consoled myself with the prospect of reading Kitchin’s aunt book and comparing it to Hull’s.
But Death of My Aunt has vanished. Perhaps I donated it to the library.
So here I am, with my cup of tea, ready to read Kitchin’s Death of His Uncle instead. Book open, pages ready… and the first sentence is brilliant. “Had it not been for my inability to mash potatoes on Thursday, June 10th, I think it quite possible that I might never have embarked on this third case of mine.”
Bur there is further exasperation. This aged paperback of Death of His Uncle is too tightly bound: I can barely read the words near the center of the book. I’ve tried pummeling it, folding back the cover, but nothing works.
I’m ready to read C.H.B. Kitchin – and now this!
Which is better? His aunt book or his uncle book?
I hope Kitchin is worth reading. He also wrote literary fiction: he was a close friend of L. P. Hartley.