Corpse At Casablanca (1956) by Belton Cobb

Cheviot Burmann, Inspector of Scotland Yard, is on his honeymoon. Determined to avoid an assignment from his boss, Burmann and his wife head off on a cruise, on a cargo boat bound for North Africa. A small group of mostly agreeable guests are admirable company and a peaceful trip lies ahead…

… until a telegram from Superintendent Dace arrives asking Burmann to investigate the presence of a racketeer aboard the boat. A racketeer who, of course, there is no description of. Soon, however, Burmann has more to worry about – the glamourous Mrs Robinson, who, as might be expected, has rubbed almost everyone up the wrong way, lies dead. Someone has sneaked some cyanide into her eyewash…

I enjoyed Double Detection a lot when I read it earlier in the year. I completely forget who or what caused me to buy it, but if it was a recommendation from you, dear reader, then thank you. Double Detection inspired me to track this one down (first edition with dust jacket). I’ve been warned off his later, post 1960, work, but this doesn’t quite make it to that critical mark.

And it’s rather wonderful.

“You said you weren’t going to think about it.”

“Nor I will. I’m damned if I will. But you don’t suppose I’m going to enjoy not thinking about it, do you? I’ll be `not thinking about it’ all the time, and I’ll know I’m not thinking about it.”

It’s narrated by Burmann’s new wife, and her voice is a winning one. Cobb dedicated the book to his wife and it’s clear he had a happy marriage. There is a wonderful tone throughout her narrative of frustration, concern, support and love, most of which is directed towards her husband. It’s such an enjoyable narration, supporting what is also an entertaining mystery.

Burmann, in common with his appearance in Double Detection, is no super-sleuth. He’s a detective who builds/jumps to a theory and then sticks to it until it falls apart. His wife acts as his sounding board, pitting her intuition against his, until the truth eventually reveals itself. It’s a closed circle of suspects mystery, and the pace of the tale never flags. There’s plenty going on, with suspicion flying around all over the place, and I certainly didn’t know where to look when the murderer was unmasked.

You can probably argue that it’s not a particularly well-clued mystery, but, I’ll be honest, I’ll take entertainment at the moment in my reading matter. I’ve got my hands on a few more Belton Cobb titles – he’s by far the most promising contender in my search for the “next Brian Flynn“. Unfortunately his earliest (and best, apparently) works are not to be seen anywhere…

One comment

  1. Sounds rather like fun. I keep meaning to read a Mr & Mrs North …

    Slim Cobb pickings around here, though there are several French translations available on Kindle!


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