It was supposed to be a simple favour – Superintendent Myrtle asked his friend Major Hemyock, recent solver of the murder in the oddly-titled Uncle William to try and spot some stolen jewellery allegedly hidden in the Kettlewell Museum amongst the exhibits. One of the perpetrators of the robbery has been found dead of a heart attack in the museum, so, after a quick polish of his monocle, the Major sets off.
There was no sign of foul play in the dead body, but while not spotting the jewels, the Major does spot something else – the Neanderthal skeleton appears to have modern dental work and the same leg break that the dead man’s partner had. When the third member of the gang is found shot, apparently by his own hand, it falls to Hemyock and his associates to find the unknown fourth member of the gang. Or something. I kind of lost track…
Oh, this had so much promise. I’d read a little praise for Browne on the internet and falling victim to my bad habits, I spotted this first edition (with a dustjacket!) on eBay. And the first chapter or two sets up one of the more interesting situations that I’ve come across. So what went wrong?
Well, I had problems with who was who throughout the book, as it takes an age for us to meet any of the suspects in the flesh. There is quite the exposition dump about the theft, the murder and the suicide before anyone gets off their backside to do some investigating – a pair of young sleuths, the daughter, Audrey, of the skeleton and a young author, Rockley Payne.
The other problem is that Browne is trying throughout to make this a “witty” book. From chapter titles to odd characters, some of whom have whole pages of “witty” dialogue, it soon became clear that one man’s wit was another man’s irritation – namely, mine.
To be honest, I’d tuned out by the end of the book, but still managed to guess the murderer.
So, a disappointment, a real shame. But at least the dustjacket looks nice on the book shelf…