Drink Alone And Die (1956) by Belton Cobb

Kathleen Benson and Detective Inspector Cheviot Burmann are engaged – hurrah! – but after moving out of her previous murder-filled living arrangements (The Willing Witness), she needs a place to stay until the wedding. She chooses to live with two other women, Mary and Harriet, and to celebrate her moving in, they all have some gin. The women are all taken ill – is it possible that the gin was poisoned?

Using her connections to Burmann, Kathleen gets the gin checked out by the police, but thankfully – and surprisingly – the gin is untainted. Returning to the flat, Mary is determined to celebrate although the other two have now sworn off the gin. Good thing too, as because of that, the cyanide which is now in the bottle only kills Mary…

How did the killer know that only Mary would drink the poison? Or did they not care who died? As Burmann finds himself once again distracted when his lady love is involved in murder, Kathleen decides that perhaps she is the one to find the killer…

The middle book, between The Willing Witness and Corpse At Casablanca, of a sort-of trilogy co-starring Cheviot Burmann with his fiancée (wife in the third one) Kathleen, and as with The Willing Witness, the book alternates between sections narrated by Kathleen and sections in the third person focussing on Burmann. It’s five long chapters, titled I Witness A Tragedy, Cheviot Burmann Meets The Suspects, I Meet The Suspects, Cheviot Burmann Finds The Poisoner and I Find The Poisoner. It’s an interesting structure and adds a level to the tale. It seems a shame that Kathleen’s voice (and character, I believe) vanishes from the series after Corpse At Casablanca, as it gives a really interesting spin on the mystery tale, as does the two differing points of view.

On top of that, this is a very strong mystery with one of Cobb’s better hidden killer. Cobb likes a very tight closed circle of suspects, so he’s not always that good at springing a real surprise. Here, you have Mary, the man who lives upstairs, the man who lives downstairs and the wife of the man who lives upstairs who is now living with the man who lives downstairs. So four suspects, five if you count Kathleen, so it’s an impressive feat that the killer caught me out. It’s all rather clever, as it makes you see events from earlier in the book in a new light when you know what’s actually going on – the middle section does drag a little bit, but this is where a lot of the clues are hidden, in hindsight.

People ask me sometimes when Belton Cobb is going to get the Brian Flynn reprint treatment – well, he’s not as far as I know. If he was, it would need to be his greatest hits, but this trilogy really ought to be included. A fun read.

One comment

  1. This one sounds excellent. I read Fatal Dose by Cobb based on your recommendation and enjoyed it. After your last couple reviews were only lukewarm, I thought perhaps that Cobb as a one-hit wonder.

    This one though sounds excellent. I found an affordable copy online today and look forward to reading it when it arrives.

    Liked by 1 person

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