Murder in the Family

‘You wouldn’t have thought she’d die as easily as that, would you?’

Volume Two contains a novel, a novelette and a short story:

Murder In the Family Stephen Osborne has lost his job and is worried about providing for his large family. He asks his wealthy sister for assistance, but Octavia Osborne is a most unpleasant person. She not only refuses to help but informs the family that she is writing them out of her will. Bad timing on her part; for while sitting in their drawing room awaiting her train home, someone strangles her. The police are convinced the murderer is a member of the Osborne household, and soon the whole town is in uproar. Murder in the Family was made into a 1938 film starring Jessica Tandy.

The Monocled Man Chicago gangster Pete Carponi and his partner ‘Cincinnati Sadie’ are transported to London in pursuit of a stolen diamond. A fast-moving, tongue-in-cheek mystery

The Second Bottle This short story takes place in a US diner during a cold hard winter.

JAMES JACK RONALD (1905-1972) was a prolific writer of pulp fiction, mystery stories and dramatic novels. Raised in Glasgow, Ronald moved to Chicago aged 17 to ‘earn his fortune’, later returning to the UK to pursue a writing career. His early works were serializations and short stories syndicated in newspapers and magazines around the world. Ronald wrote under a number of pseudonyms, including Michael Crombie, Kirk Wales, Peter Gale, Mark Ellison and Kenneth Streeter among others. Several books were adapted into films, including Murder in the Family (1938), The Witness Vanishes (1939), and The Suspect (1944).


By James Ronald

Introduction by Chris Verner

First published in 1930s by John Lane and others


ISBN 9781899000685

eISBN 9781899000692

Available December 2023


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Stephen Osborne came out of the office building in which he had been employed for twenty-four years and walked slowly along the grey, sunless canyon which is Grave Street, the main business thoroughfare of Brancaster, that important Midland city. He walked with an unnatural stiffness, as though mind and body were concentrated on the problem of keeping himself erect. Passers-by turned to stare after him. It was a bit thick, they felt, to be as drunk as that at three o’clock in the afternoon.

He did not look like that sort. He looked like a scholar, a dreamer. Tall and thin, about fifty years of age, he had rather a fine face with a high forehead, an aquiline nose and a sensitive mouth—or perhaps it was only a weak mouth. The dark hair at his temples was sprinkled with silver. He wore a shabby blue suit which had been carefully brushed and pressed and although his shoes had seen a lot of wear they shone bravely. Hundreds of foggy rainy Brancaster days had darkened the grey felt of his hat, but it boasted a new band and showed signs of cleaning—not that anything can clean off Brancaster rain and Brancaster fog. No, he was not the usual drunkard by any means. He looked as though he had too much self-respect for that.

Of their own accord Stephen’s feet led him round the first turning into Rundle Street, through which he passed nightly on his way to the station. The Labour Exchange was in Rundle Street and outside it a line of men shuffled and lounged while they waited their turns to draw the dole.

Some of them kept their eyes on the pavement, ashamed of this advertisement of their poverty; some stared at those who passed with a boldness that mocked sympathy; some seemed oblivious to everything but the door at the head of the queue. One ragged soul with frayed cuffs and patched elbows was engrossed in a racing newspaper; another was telling a funny story to his neighbour; a fourth was paring his nails with a penknife. Here a clean collar and polished shoes told of a fight against odds to keep up appearances; and there a scrubby chin, a soiled muffler, and boots caked with mud confessed the hopeless apathy of the derelict who owned them. No two faces were alike. Cheerful, callous, anxious, listless, bitter, defiant: each expressed an attitude to life, and only hope was absent. There was little hope for an out-of-work in Brancaster. The city lives on cotton and cotton is a decayed industry. Every fourth man in the city was unemployed. Stephen remembered something he had heard one shabby man saying to another in a crowded tramcar: “To lose your job these days, mate, is to be out of work for life.”

Usually, Stephen looked the other way when he passed the Labour Exchange queue, but this afternoon his eyes travelled along it, resting on each face in turn. He had a new interest in this out-of-work army, a new horror at its fate—for a few minutes ago he had joined it.
“These are trying times, Osborne,” his employer had said regretfully. “We’re losing trade right and left…turnover a third of last year’s…profit cut to the bone on the business that’s left… Lord knows where it’ll end…got to retrench or go under…no fault to find with your work…others in the same boat…we can manage without you immediately if you wish to be free to look for another post…cashier will give you a cheque for two month’s salary…an excellent reference, of course…”

Stunned and bewildered, Stephen had put on his hat and wandered out into the street. Mile after mile of unfriendly pave¬ment he tramped, neither noticing nor caring where his leaden feet were taking him, and as he drifted he took stock of himself.

“We can manage without you immediately…” That stung. It stung because it was true. For twenty-four years he had served the firm of Samuel Padbury & Son to the best of his ability and yet it could manage without him at a moment’s notice. His work would be parcelled out among the other clerks, who would have a little more to do than before, and that was all the difference his departure would make.

A poor recommendation to offer another employer. If others with better qualifications than his could search for work year after year in vain, what hope was there for him? He had little initiative, no confidence in meeting and talking to strangers. He did not know how to go looking for work. In all his life, he had held but one job, the one he had just lost; and it had been obtained for him through the influence of a friend.

His qualifications were few. A public-school education, three years at Cambridge, four years of idling in London, twenty-four years of clerical drudgery. Drudgery? Yes, that was what it had been; and he had hated every minute of it, although he had tried not to let Edith know. It would have hurt her to realise how bitterly he loathed the office to which he had been condemned when he married her.
Edith! How was he to tell her! And—Good God!—how were they to live? They had never been able to save. How could they, with five children to feed, clothe, educate? They had less than ten pounds in the bank; and the cheque for two months’ salary, another fifty odd pounds, would not last long. When it was gone—what?