…. we seem to be living in a Golden Age for reissues.
The books are tricky to write about without giving too much away, and so I’m going to briefly mention two that I’ve read recently that are quite different but feel like a natural pair.
I’ve been distracted lately – by life, by family, by work – and books like this have been lovely therapy.
One grew from a quiet beginning into an engrossing story; the other had a fabulous beginning that it couldn’t quite live up to.
Death in the Tunnel by Miles Burton (1936)
One dark November evening Sir Wilfred Saxonby was found dead on the train he used regularly to travel from his London office to his country home. He was alone in his carriage; the door locked on his request. A gun, engraved with his initials lay close to his body. His son and daughter were both away, traveling abroad at his suggestion. As the local police worked, slowly and methodically, so many things suggested that Sir Wilfred had died by his own hand.
There were unanswered questions though, and so an officer from Scotland Yard was summoned.
Inspector Arnold believed that there had been a murder; and that to carry out the murder there must have been an elaborate conspiracy. He called in his old friend Desmond Merrion – a criminologist and amateur detective – and between them they untangled the puzzle.
I can’t say much at all about the plot without giving too much away, but I can tell you many things I loved about this book.
I believed in all of the people in the story, and the things they said and did. The crime was extraordinary, but I could quite easily believe that this was the same world where my grandparents lived, and that maybe they had read about the case in the newspaper, and talked about it.
I appreciated the relationship between Arnold and Merrion. One was a steady worker with all of the resources of the police at his disposal; the other was an ideas man in possession of the sharpest of minds. They made a great team and they had a mutual respect that I really appreciated.
And I loved that small pieces of evidence were assembled, steadily building a case against the murderer. The plotting is clever and complex, red herrings are very well deployed, and the story twisted and turned beautifully. It’s very much a puzzle mystery; there’s a solid motive for the murder, the psychology is there but it is very simple.
I had to keep turning the pages, and I was sorry to reach the last one.
But I see that Inspector Arnold and Desmond Merrion investigated quite a few more cases, that one is already on its way back into print, and I hope that others will follow.
Calamity in Kent by John Rowland (1950)
Reporter Jimmy London is convalescing at a small seaside town in Kent and when he meets a lift attendant who has found the body of a man who has quite clearly been murdered in his lift. Jimmy takes charge of the situation, and he hopes that he will be able to climb the career ladder, selling an exclusive inside story to one of the daily papers.
It seems that luck is with Jimmy: his good friend Inspector Shelley from Scotland Yard is on the spot and takes charge of the investigation. He agrees that Jimmy can have any news about the case first, in exchange for a little help with the case. Because Inspector Shelley realises that people will talk to a reporter in a way that won’t talk to the police, and that the reporter will bring a different perspective to the case.
He played Jimmy and Jimmy played him too. He didn’t mention that he had searched the body before that police arrived, that he had found a notebook, and that he was planning more investigations of his own. He would tell the police what he found out, but he wanted it to be his own enquiry and his own story.
It was a good story, and Jimmy was a charming and engaging narrator. I enjoyed the period setting, the seaside location, and some very interesting characters that Jimmy met in the course of his investigations.
I’m sorry that my credulity was stretched a little too far. Too many people were rather too ready to talk to Jimmy, about themselves, about what had happened, and about what they knew. And I couldn’t quite believe how much latitude Inspector Shelley gave Jimmy; or how grateful he was when Jimmy put forward suggestions that an Inspector from Scotland Yard would surely have thought of himself.
The final denouement was dramatic; but it was also ridiculously improbable.
I was well entertained and I was interested enough to read to the end, but reading more books in this series isn’t high on my list of priorities.
But certain other other Golden Age mysteries are ….