Back to 1934 to meet Detective Constable Bobby Owen, B.A. (Oxon, pass degree only). Having sorted out a couple of cases in the past, Bobby is recruited to keep an eye on George Winterton, a retired businessman, living on the coast in Suffby Cove. Winterton is convinced that his brother died while out swimming, although there is no evidence to back this up – Archibald was a strong swimmer, but he did know better than to swim into the dangerous waters. George is in fear for his life, so Bobby goes undercover at his home. But for some reason, George isn’t being completely honest with the young policeman.
Soon, George too is dead, the only hint being a crossword that he devised himself, but which has mysteriously vanished. Soon Bobby finds himself in a race against time to find a killer before they strike again – and to solve a crossword, once he finds it.
Those nice folk at Dean Street Press are at it again – after the publication of the long-lost Ianthe Jerrold books, The Studio Crime and Dead Man’s Quarry (coming soon), they are also releasing the Bobby Owen mysteries by E R Punshon. Punshon was one of the first inductees to the Detection Club after it was founded (alongside Gladys Mitchell and Anthony Gilbert) and proceded to produce many more – not sure how many, I’m afraid, there’s not a massive amount of info on Punshon on the internet. But hopefully with the publication of this one (along with Information Received, Death Among The Sunbathers, Mystery Villa and Death Of A Beauty Queen – this one is Book Three, btw) there will be a renewed interest in him.
Bobby is a likeable protagonist, determined to find a truth that fits all the facts presented, unlike his superiors, although it’s notable that it’s Owen’s mentor that gives the explanation at the end of the tale rather than Owen himself, who seems unwilling (mostly) to contradict his superiors, although when push comes to shove, there’s a lovely scene where he explains, extremely politely, that he’s going to ignore a direct order. Really made me smile that one.
The crossword, by the way, is presented for the reader to have a go at (a bit hard on my kindle) but it’s a bloody hard crossword anyway. Crosswords aren’t the sort of puzzle that I go in for – my puzzles are language-neutral, as it’s basically impossible to have a fair international competition otherwise – but bizarrely the only clue that I did get was the one that Bobby keeps banging on about, although you can thank Paul Doherty and the most recent Brother Athelstan book for that one. Wisely Punshon presents the solution to the crossword before the finale so that the reader can mull over what it means.
There’s a nice selection of supporting characters and the book is intelligently written. Punchon does let the characters channel some of his own beliefs a little obviously at times, but never in a heavy-handed way, and it’s not as if those beliefs are at all controversial.
As for the mystery, it’s a well-clued puzzle, although I guessed the killer early on, and the pace does drag a little in the final third, which is often the case when I’m pretty sure who the killer is – and I’m not particularly sure how they thought they’d get away with it. Even so, it’s well worth a look – I enjoyed it more than the recent John Bude book – and I look forward to seeing Bobby Owen again soon. Recommended.
Oh, and anyone who wants to suggest a rule for qualification for the Golden Age style should be nothing graphic – the last chapter of this book. Just saying…
And before I forget – if you have a suggestion as to what makes a modern mystery “in the Golden Age style”, do leave a comment here or, preferably, on this post, so that I have some food for thought for a later post.