The Queen and the Corpse by Max Murray

published 1949

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The vast dining-room was filled with people, well-dressed, animated and often gay. But she found the atmosphere restless and depressing. All these people crossing the ocean were the victims, or the produce, of change. They were not going abroad in the sense that she remembered it. They were getting away. They had torn up their roots….

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She found herself wishing that she had not left the quiet serenity of her own countryside. She found herself with the feeling that the great ship was making a passage from the past to the future. The subdued lights, the soft panelling of the great saloon, the quietly hurrying waiters were all conspiring to maintain an atmosphere of false security, sheltering her briefly in an atmosphere of good manners and good taste.

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commentary: When I recently did a list of shipboard books, Tracy K of Bitter Tea and Mystery, suggested this one (which I think she owns but hasn’t read) so I got hold of it right away. The Queen of the title is the Queen Alexandra, a transatlantic liner of great luxury with some very fancy passengers. I have done a couple of other books by Murray on the blog – The Voice of the Corpse and The King and the Corpse. (Sensing a theme here, and in fact he produced many crime books with ‘corpse’ in the title.)

Queen and the Corpse 2Most shipboard books spend time introducing the characters and showing them booking a passage, leaving home, boarding the ship – but this one not only starts well into the voyage, but after a murder has taken place. The dead person (whom nobody has a moment for, and who never becomes a real character) was a secretary carrying a manuscript: a tell-all story set to ruin many lives if it was published. And – you’ll be astonished to hear – several of those featured in the book were fellow-passengers. You cannot fault Murray: he knows how to get a story going.

As the ship heads across the Atlantic the hero, Peter, tries toQueen and the Corpse 3 solve the crime with the help/hindrance of two young women who are in love with him. We find out the backstories of several of the passengers. There is another murder. There are some very creepy moments when we see the action through the eyes of the murderer – I usually roll my eyes at those passages, but this was particularly well done.

I had no difficulty at all in identifying murderer, for reasons I cannot reveal without spoilering, but it was a good read all the same, and the shipboard setting was very nicely done.

I have one rather unusual complaint – the backstories all seem to need a novel of their own, they were strangely fascinating and possibly even more interesting than the main plot, and there are a couple of characters introduced right at the end who play no real role, but might have had their own novels. And then the final revelation – of  motive and eventually the guilty party  – is a very strange and dark tale. It hasn’t been hinted at in any way, it just arrives out of nothing, and leaves many unanswered questions. But it certainly would have made a novel of its own. And you get a feeling that Murray could have written darker and more serious books.

A strange structure…

One picture is the back cover of my Dell edition of the book.

The others are all by Gervais Purcell, and are part of the collection of the Australian National Maritime Museum. That top picture is a real cheat, because it is dated 1960, but I couldn’t resist it for its picture of the passengers’ lounge – isn’t it extraordinary? And this was an advert for P&O, it was meant to make you want to rush on board. I think they all look like murderers and victims in their own ways.

The woman in the hat IS from 1949 – the hat seems to have a jaunty, nautical air. The others are various pictures he took of ships and cruises.


  1. That's an interesting strategy, Moira, to start the story more or less after the murder. Of course, there's nothing quite like a shipboard setting for a murder mystery, so that got my attention, too. And that slight undertone of dark...hmm...intriguing. I understand what you mean about the characters and their backstories, and for some reason, I find that oddly interesting, too. Sounds a bit unusual, but a good read.

    1. It was definitely a good read, Margot, the kind of book to take you out of everyday life, as if you were going off on a transatlantic liner yourself...

  2. I am glad you liked this book, Moira. I do have this one, the same edition, and you are right, I have not read it yet. I was attracted as much by the cover as the setting. I hope to get to reading it soon. I also have The Voice of the Corpse and The Right Honorable Corpse. Lots of great images to go with it. I agree with you, that top picture would convince me NOT to go on a cruise.

    1. Well thank YOU Tracy for pointing me in the right direction! I'll look forward to reading your views on it sometime. And I will probably try to find another book by him.

  3. Alas, I have not seen a hat on a passenger in a lounge or restaurant of a cruise ship in the last 5 years.

    1. Yes, that doesn't surprise me though it saddens me too. Not even sun hats? I always like to have really stylish large straw hats, as I need to keep the sun off me.
      My brother once took my nephew to see a film in which a statuesque woman burst into a social event wearing the biggest hat ever seen, with fancy clothes and jewellery to match, My nephew leaned over to my brother and said 'It's Aunty Moira!'

      I feel I should leave him all my money because of this.

    2. Maybe a sun hat on deck but not in a lounge or restaurant.

      Your nephew is priceless. I would love to see a photo of Aunty Moira in her finery on the blog. It would be spectacular!

    3. There is talk these days that people like to 'dress like an architect'. I can see the appeal of that but feel that I am more likely to 'dress like a lady-pirate-detective'.


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