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University at Buffalo Libraries

George Kelley Paperback & Pulp Fiction Collection

The Left Leg

cover image By: Tilton, Alice (pseudonym of Phoebe Atwood Taylor) (female)
Publisher: Popular Library (60-2394)
Place of Publication: New York, NY
Catalog #: Kelley Box 379: PS3539 .A8975 L43 1968
Contributor: J. Vourgourakis


Era: 1940s Author as on Cover: Alice Tilton Geographic Locale: Carnavon, Massachusetts Date of Publication: 1968  |  Original Date: 1940 Setting: small town located ten miles outside Boston Motives: murder

Plot Summary

Leonidas Witherall is lured to the town of Carnavon to view a Shakespeare folio. The folio turns out to be a bad facsimile and as Witherall makes his way back home by bus, he is accosted by a woman on the bus who falsely accuses him of stealing her purse. While running from this woman, Witherall gets caught up in a variety of weird situations, including murder. When he goes to find his friend to vouch for him, instead he finds his friend dead with all the clues pointing to Leonidas as the murderer. With help from some wacky local characters, Leonidas solves the mystery. This is a lighthearted comedy filled with outrageous events and characters.

Major Characters

Leonidas Witherall aka Shakespeare or Bill, adult male, bears a striking resemblance to William Shakespeare; taught high school English for many years; traveled the world and returned to the United States and worked as a janitor. Now writes clandestinely as a mystery novelist and for a radio show.

Carl Colfax adult male, professor, acting headmaster of Meredith Academy and friend of Witherall; expects to be appointed permanently to the position of headmaster and gets himself into debt in expectation of his new salary. When he learns that Meredith has Witherall in mind for the position, Colfax tries to discredit Witherall, but ends up committing murder instead

Lincoln Potter "Link", adult male, hardware store owner

Myrna the "Scarlet Wimpernel," adult female, undereducated woman who is hired to harass Witherall

Marcus Meredith adult male, owner of Meredith Academy

Topsey Beaton adult female, runs the local church fundraisers, a quick and resourceful older woman

Judy Brett adult female, Beaton's secretary, formerly the voice of Princess Alicia in Witherall's radio show until her part was cut

Evelyn Leicester adult male, local pastor

John Robbins adult male, cement factory owner whose hobby is photography

Frenchy adult male, ex-con turned good guy

Level of Violence

Witherall knocks several policemen out using a quick blow to the head, but this has more of a comic effect than a violent one. Witherall temporarily knocks the policemen out in order to subvert their prying into the case until he, Witherall, solves it. All of the policemen ultimately end up healthy, if somewhat confused. Meredith is killed by a blow to the head and has his fake leg removed.


by the end of the novel, there are two happy heterosexual couples. Evelyn falls in love with Myrna, and Link Potter with Judy. Both women dress up in sexy outfits to perform the "play" at the end of the novel which dupes the villain, Colfax, into confessing his crime. Only the younger characters are portrayed as sexually alive. Witherall and Beaton, both well past middle age, are de-sexualized.

Gender Roles

all the characters stay strictly within their traditional gender boundaries.


not evident

Alcohol/Drug Abuse


Law Enforcement

the police officers in the novel are depicted as slightly corrupt and very incompetent.

Subject Headings

Teachers/ Massachusetts/ Murder