One of the joys of diving into the secondhand book market and grabbing things at random is that sometimes you come across a new author that for whatever reason catches your attention. No, not another Brian Flynn post – don’t forget, thirty books are now back in print – but Belton Cobb. And yes, I’ve probably helped push the prices of his books up a bit – I really need to do what Curtis Evans does and keep my gob shut, but it’s too late for that.
Geoffrey Belton Cobb (1892-1971) was a sales director for Longman’s publishers and a regular contributor to Punch and other magazines. His father Thomas Cobb was a prolific author too, producing a number of mystery novels as part of his output, and Cobb followed in his example. The reason for this is to give a hopefully definitive list of Cobb’s mystery fiction. I’m cautiously including A Price On Their Heads (1930) as it is a standalone children’s adventure, but might cut it out once I’ve read it. While I’m sure 90% of my readership wouldn’t care tuppence for this, I do like lists – it gives me something to tick off. He wrote some true crime books as well, and a couple of odds and ends, but any list that I’ve come across doesn’t seem to be complete and has books from the same year in the wrong order.
And a caveat before I start – I haven’t read all of Cobb’s work, far from it, so I’m expecting corrections all over the place here.
There seems to be some disagreement as to his series sleuths. Detective Inspector (later Detective Superintendent) Cheviot Burmann appears in almost all of the books, with the exception of, I think, three standalone titles and the six Superintendent Manning tales. The Manning tales were released consecutively shortly after the war and were perhaps an attempt to create a new sleuth, although he then returned to Burmann in No Mercy For Margaret and never returned to Manning. The two standalone titles are Sergeant Ross In Disguise (it should be mentioned that Ross goes on to share the billing with Burmann in at least two more books, Double Detection and Death In The Thirteenth Dose), Home Guard Mystery and The Lunatic, The Lover.
There are two more sleuths that do appear significantly in the later books, Bryan and Kitty Armitage (nee Palgrave). While Bryan Armitage appears first (I think) in Death With A Difference, as an “aid to CID”, narrating the book in fact, it is definitely a Cheviot Burmann title, as while Bryan does contribute to the sleuthing, Burmann is the character who puts two and two together. If there is an earlier appearance of Brian (and I am missing a few possible contenders), then I’m assuming that these are standalone titles as I think this is his first encounter with Burmann.
Kitty Palgrave, however, does get some standalone titles. WPC Kitty Palgrave first appears, possibly, in Search For Sergeant Baxter, where she teams up with Bryan while Burmann is incpacitated with a broken ankle. Burmann and Kitty both appear in Murder: Men Only but only Kitty appears in the following book as well, Death Of A Peeping Tom with Burmann making no appearance. By the time of Security Secrets Sold Here, she has married Bryan Armitage and is working for Burmann in an undercover capacity. Later still in The Horrible Man In Heron’s Wood, Burmann makes no appearance but gets a name-check as her superior officer. Two books later, in Suspicion In Triplicate and both Kitty and Bryan, now a DCI, are the leads with no mention of Burmann at all. You can see how fiddly it is to classify these books – do books that are part of the Burmann universe count as Burmann books? Do I include books featuring Kitty and Burmann as Kitty books? What about a book where Burmann only makes a cameo, for example?
To deal with this, I have labelled with the name of the sleuth the books that I know don’t feature Burmann. Here’s is the list as far as I am certain of it. Any suggestions or corrections would be appreciated.
- A Price On Their Heads (1930) (STANDALONE)
- No Alibi (1936)
- The Poisoner’s Mistake (1936)
- Fatal Dose (1937)
- Quickly Dead (1937)
- The Fatal Holiday (1938)
- Like A Guilty Thing (1938)
- Death Defies the Doctor (1939)
- Inspector Burmann’s Busiest Day (1939)
- Sergeant Ross in Disguise (1940) (STANDALONE)
- Home Guard Mystery (1941)
- Inspector Burmann’s Black Out (1941)
- Double Detection (1945)
- Death in the 13th Dose (1946)
- Early Morning Poison (1947) (MANNING)
- The Secret of Superintendent Manning (1948) (MANNING)
- The Framing of Carol Woan (1948) (MANNING)
- No Last Words (1949) (MANNING)
- Stolen Strychnine (1949) (MANNING)
- No Charge For Poison (1950) (MANNING)
- The Lunatic, the Lover (1950) (STANDALONE)
- No Mercy For Margaret (1952)
- Next-Door To Death (1952)
- Detective in Distress (1953)
- Corpse Incognito (1953)
- Need A Body Tell? (1954)
- The Willing Witness (1955)
- Drink Alone and Die (1956)
- Corpse at Casablanca (1956)
- Doubly Dead (1956)
- Poisoner’s Base (1957)
- The Missing Scapegoat (1958)
- With Intent To Kill (1958)
- Death With A Difference (1960)
- Don’t Lie To the Police (1960)
- Search For Sergeant Baxter (1961)
- Corpse in the Cargo (1961)
- Murder: Men Only (1962)
- Death Of A Peeping Tom(1963) (KITTY)
- No Shame For the Devil (1964)
- Dead Girl’s Shoes (1964)
- I Never Miss Twice (1965)
- Last Drop (1965)
- Some Must Watch (1966)
- A Stone For His Head (1966)
- Lost Without Trace (1967)
- Security Secrets Sold Here (1967)
- Secret Enquiry (1968)
- Silence Under Threat (1968)
- Food For Felony (1969)
- Scandal at Scotland Yard (1969)
- The Horrible Man in Heron’s Wood (1970) (KITTY)
- Catch Me – If You Can (1970)
- Suspicion in Triplicate (1971) (KITTY & BRYAN)
- I Fell Among Thieves (1971)
In case you’re curious, the titles in bold are the ones that I don’t own. Just in case you feeling like bunging a copy my way…
Two early criminous titles are missing:
A Price on Their Heads (1930) – juvenile crime fiction expanded from a 1928 short story
The Man with the Black Patch (1930)
DSP are going to be busy …
Obviously there are true crime volumes as well as his first book, a war memoir published in 1917
I don’t think there are any DSP plans here at the moment. I think with Cobb, it would probably need to be a Best Of, as there are a few stinkers, especially once you hit 1960.
Thanks for the tip on A Price On Their Heads, I thought that was a true crime book. Not heard of Black Patch…
Ah ok. ‘Price on Their Heads’ is about two schoolboy sleuths in the style of Crofts’ Robin Brand stories.
Just ordered a copy. Overall, I like Cobb a lot (although he’s no Flynn) but the later books… Security Secrets Sold Here is entertaining nonsense but The Horrible Man In Heron’s Wood is just, well, horrible.
Isn’t The Man with the Black Patch a serial story in the Children’s Annual ‘Chatterbox’?
I can’t find an entry for in on Worldcat or the Bodleian library catalogue. I’ve seen “Chatterbox” on Abebooks as a result for a Cobb search.
It was published as a book. His other Chatterbox stories were also published as novels
Under the psuedonym F E Verney?
The Man With The Black Patch is credited to Frank Edwin Verney in Worldcat, the Bodleain and the Cambridge University archive. While this could be a pseudonym, there is a mention of him in this thesis https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/48782/1/Snajdr,_Rosie_-_PhD_Thesis_UEA_2014.pdf
that includes a mention of his death, reported in the Times in 1941. So if it’s a pseudonym, it’s a good one…
I read Secret Enquiry many years ago, and I think it featured Armitage and Palgrave (Burmann might have had a subsidiary role.)
I’ve got that one so I can check.
I hope DSP will reprint but they have a very fill plate right now. Cobb was on the list of writers I sent to DSP (along with ECR Lorac and Brian Flynn and ER Punshon and Christopher Bush and many others) some years ago now.
I hope DSP will reprint but they have a very full plate right now. Cobb was on the list of writers I sent to DSP (along with ECR Lorac and Brian Flynn and ER Punshon and Christopher Bush and many others) some years ago now.