Security Secrets Sold Here (1967) by Belton Cobb

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Pamela Wilby had given up on the likelihood that she would ever attract a man – after all, she had always been called “Plain Jane” when growing up, and she began to believe the teasing. So when Arthur Brown trips over her in the street and wants to meet up with her again, she can’t quite believe it. She is thrilled that Arthur can see untapped talents in her – he is convinced she should be a writer. When she asks what to write about, he suggests to write about what she knows, for example the security system of the factory where she works…

Eventually, Pamela begins to suspect that Arthur Brown just might have an ulterior motive – there have been a lot of armed robberies on local businesses, stealing the payroll in transit – but soon finds herself under suspicion. When the robbery occurs and things take a fatal turn, it falls to Superintendent Cheviot Burmann and his undercover colleague DS Kitty Armitage to get to the bottom of things.

First of all, let’s admire that magnificently awful cover. I presume that’s supposed to be a security guard fending off (unsuccessfully) the armed robbery – truncheons aren’t the best defence against guns – but seriously? Who would buy a book with a cover like that? [Yes, I did, shut up] It looks like something about football hooligans or something… And the title is really, really small.

Yes, I’m back to Belton Cobb, and I dipping my toes into his later work again, the books that I’ve been warned against by Curtis Evans. But Belton Cobb is my next-best thing to Brian Flynn, in the sense of obscure books that no one else seems to look at, and if I’m going to become a Cobb expert, then I’m going to have to read the dross as well as the good stuff. And there is a nice idea here, much better than the later The Horrible Man In Heron’s Wood.

But you need more than a nice idea and there’s some dodgy stuff going on here. The idea that Pamela is unattractive is really odd – even her adult colleagues make comments about not believing a man could be attracted to her. Luckily meeting Arthur makes her put some make-up on and get her hair done and suddenly – yup, she’s beautiful. It makes certain romantic comedies look convincing…

The fact that it takes an age for Pamela to twig that Arthur just might not be on the straight and narrow doesn’t exactly make her the brightest shilling in the box, but luckily the reader soon gets distracted by the appearance of DS Armitage whose undercover persona seems to be an office tart who wants to flirt with everything and snog her uncle (the boss of the company who brought in the police).

There’s a lot of negative points here, but there’s something fascinating about how bad they are. Cobb’s prose is very readable and as I said, there is a fairly clever plot hidden behind them. Admittedly, it’s a stupid clever plot, but it does make some odd bits of behaviour make sense, which I didn’t expect. Having said that, it takes Burmann about five minutes to point the finger at the villain, through perfectly sensible deduction.

I oddly enjoyed this more than I probably should have, although part of the enjoyment did come from laughing with disbelief at the gender politics (and the cover every time I picked it up.) It’s not a desperately good book, but if you’ve got a similar sense of humour to me, there are things to like here.

3 comments

  1. I just finished reading “No Last Words” (1949) by Belton Cobb. It features Inspector Manning, who I believe was one of his serial characters. Weirdly fantasticfiction.com is listing this as part of the Cheviot Burman series, which seems to be a mistake.

    It wasn’t a bad read, but a bit unremarkable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Not got that one. Burmann and Manning seem to be his two series characters, with more Burmann titles than Manning – they might exist in the same “universe” as there are some books where Burmann is in the background but an underling is the sleuth, and ditto with Manning.

      I think if I had to cite a Cobb weakness is that the mysteries tend to hinge on a single clue, so there can be a lot of padding either side.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well, “No Last Words” wasn’t particularly difficult to figure out. Annoyingly there were 4 (!) police detectives working on the case and a majority of the book consists of interviews with the suspects and Manning and his colleagues going over the few clues again and again which made it a bit monotonous.

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