It was Benson, the chef of the Whitehall Club, who put events in motion. He accidentally brought a bottle of poison to work in a bottle labelled “Vanilla” (for a perfectly innocent reason, apparently). It was he who carelessly left it lying around despite knowing one particularly objectionable member of the club always wanted vanilla added to his food. And when that club member is found dead, it would appear that Benson had accidentally poisoned him.
But the Whitehall Club cannot possibly have such a scandal – after all, Benson is an excellent chef. When Ford, the club secretary, and Dr Anstruther, the member who helped him cover up the potential manslaughter (or murder) start receiving blackmail letters suggesting ways to improve the club (such as buying more billiard balls), at first they decide to ignore them. But the blackmailer is persistent and soon things turn deadly…
Keep It Quiet was the second novel from Richard Hull, following the success of The Murder Of My Aunt – for those keeping score, Murder Isn’t Easy was the third, the upcoming The Ghost It Was was fourth and the British Library title Excellent Intentions was sixth. If you recall, my current high point for Hull is Murder Isn’t Easy. Does this reach those height? No, but it doesn’t miss by much.
Hull basically works with three central points of view for most of the book, Ford, Anstruther and Cardonnel, a club member who is presented as the sleuth, although given Hull’s trickery, I found myself doubting how talented he was in that direction.
“Cardonnel was the kind of man who knows his own size in gloves and is amazed to find that others are not equally well informed.”
The trials and tribulations of keeping the initial secret (and inevitably others) are rather fun to follow, especially as Ford is presented as being awfully slow, never quite behaving as the blackmailer intends. The first half is beautifully paced and just as I’d guessed who the blackmailer was – Hull reveals it anyway! We then get to see that character’s insights as well, especially when their plans don’t play out as expected. There’s also a nice growing realisation as to just how mad the villain is.
So a fun read, although like The Murder Of My Aunt, there’s a sense that Hull dreamed up the final chapter and then wrote the rest of the book to get to that point. Still, this is top notch fun and Highly Recommended.
Keep It Quiet is being reissued by Ipso books on June 28th. Many thanks for the review copy.