Nearly a decade has passed since I first acquired “They Shall Not Die,” a crime thriller written by Edmund Cooper, under the pseudonym of Broderick Quain. It was published by Curtis Warren Ltd. (March 1954) and represented Cooper’s third printed title, all within a month of each other.
Richard Sinclair, a psychiatrist, is visited by a 20-year-old lovely lady by the name of Maxime Barry. She confides that she has [in the past] murdered a man and he continues to haunt her. Nobody sees him; nobody believes her. Assured of her insanity, she seeks out Sinclair’s aid to prove her sanity or, lock her up in a padded cell.
Confident that Maxime Barry is in fact sane, Sinclair advises her to stay calm, etc. No sooner does she depart than Antoinette Barry enters. She is essentially her step-mother. She insists that Sinclair abort his sessions with Maxime; that she is in fact insane; and his intervention may prove to be quite dangerous. She then attempts to bribe him.
As soon as he removes her from his offices, he ‘phones his old mate, Dennis Byrd, an Inspector with the Cambridge C.I.D., to set up a joint venture into the countryside for a week of rest and relaxation. Whilst driving to East Cotton, Sinclair asks Byrd if he’s had any peculiar, unaccounted for deaths. Byrd realizes something is afoot, for Sinclair never shows such an interest in Byrd’s morbid work. He obtains from Sinclair, off-the-record, a report on his psychiatric activities.
Arriving in East Cotton and taking up residence, go for a walk, and, after hearing a gun discharge, the pair stumble across Maxime Barry! [While the author makes poor use of an impossible coincidence, Cooper adroitly handles the mysterious conspiracy that follows].
Sinclair and Byrd are confident that Maxime is purposefully being driven insane before she becomes heir to a small fortune upon her 21st birthday, and further, that the villains in the case are using an Occult Research Society as a front for the distribution of drugs.
Unable to prove their theories, they are forced to solve the “crime” themselves, or, die trying.
Now, I had initially put off reading “They Shall Not Die” for ten years because Cooper reportedly had less than savory words for women. I was afraid that his own viewpoints might make themselves quite evidently present within his earlier novels. Finally, taking this into account, I charged forward, realizing these elements might be present, but accepted them. While Cooper does in fact make some slight off-remarks, on the whole, I felt the novel to be adventurously a pleasing read, even if the villains, themselves, were clear at the onset, even if their motives were somewhat opaque. And while Maxime Barry begins as a weak feminine entry, she turns out to be all the stronger by the end of the novel, a complete 180 in her status, clearly indicating that Cooper was firmly aware to avoid the conventional play-up-the-weaker-sex angle that most authors tended to adhere to in their stories. I applaud Mr. Cooper for the unconventional.