Carolus Deene, history master at Queen’s School, is summoned to Blessington-On-Sea to investigate the murder of a famous mystery writer. She has been found on the beach, buried up to her neck, as the tide washes around her. But Deene finds himself up against a conspiracy of silence – clearly the victim’s household know something about the events on the night of her death, but nobody is willing to admit it. But when a second death occurs, just as that person was on the verge of opening up to Carolus, it seems there is only one thing left for our hero to do…
After writing eight Sergeant Beef mysteries – Case For Three Detectives being the most well known – Rupert Croft-Cooke abandoned the good sergeant in favour of Carolus Deene, who featured in his next twenty three novels. Which is a shame, really, as I liked Beef. Deene, however, is another kettle of fish.
Reluctant to even investigate the crime at first, he has to be persuaded into spending his time looking into an obvious case of murder (and a good thing, as the police seem to be doing spit all) and at one point needs leaning on quite heavily as he’s planning on quitting for no particularly good reason. He’s rude and impatient to the people he questions and generally comes across as pretty tiresome. There’s still a line of humour threaded throughout the story, but it’s a much grumpier sense of humour than in the Beef stories (the aforementioned Case For Three Detectives and Murder In Miniature) that I’ve read.
It’s a pretty decent mystery, although the reason behind the conspiracy of silence takes a bit of swallowing, but it would have helped if the suspects had been a bit more distinctive. It’s a problem when the only character that stands out is the one with the funny voice (well, another attempt at phonetically trying to present an accent, although what accent “Ey fency et mush have been about twelve meed-dey” is supposed to be is anyone’s guess.) There are some nice plot ideas here, in fact the central one I not one that I recall, but the presentation is a bit lacking – the vagueness of the cause of death is a bit artificial too.
This is being presented as my entry for Past Offences’ Crimes Of The Century #1959book – I was going to do Three Cousins Die by John Rhode, but I’ve not heard good things about it – so what does this show us about 1959?
Not a vast amount – there’s a reference to a Sten gun (a type of machine gun used in WWII and the Korean War), a crew cut, a reference to a “lager beer”… but the most obvious sign of the times is when Priggley – one of Deene’s students turns up to help him out. Maybe that was fine in 1959, but these days (speaking as a teacher myself) but if the world’s clingiest student turned up in my hotel during the summer, I’d be running a mile!
Oh, and Priggley also tries to make a point about the times by suggesting to Deene – “I don’t see how you expect to get away with a mysterious murder, examination of suspects, digging up the clues, keeping everyone in the dark, then Bang, the big revelation. It was all right for the first fifty years or so, but it’s completely outmoded now.” There should be, apparently “Far more suspense. Personal danger the whole time. The American school. You start with being shot at as you’re walking home, long before you’re investigating anything. Then a touch of the macabre – a brace of human skeletons in your bed at night. Rumours of great and gruesome organizations working. Odd little things like a woman at a bar suddenly screaming with terror. Pile it on.You might get filmed or anyway televised. As it is, you’re dated, sir, honestly.”
Anyway, back to the book. It’s worth a look, but with reservations. Some clever ideas mixed with some unsubtle narrative dodges and some pretty dull suspects. Worth A Look.
Oh, the odd title is from a poem by Sir Thomas Browne. No idea what it’s got to do with the story…