Lost Without Trace (1967) by Belton Cobb

Detective Superintendent Cheviot Burmann was struggling with a heavy cold, but when he received an urgent call from Detective Inspector Brian Armitage at 2 am in the morning, he rushed out to deal with something. Then he disappeared without trace.

Brian soon finds himself suspended, despite his claims that he never made the phone call, as is Kitty Armitage because, um… because she’s his wife. With the police baffled at where Burmann is, it falls to Brian and Kitty to find their boss. Well, Kitty to find him and Brian to try and run away to South America apparently…

Oh, Belton Cobb. I had such high hopes of you. The first books I read of his were pretty good and I had visions of old Belton being the next Brian Flynn. And I collected a lot of his work, basically everything I could find that was affordable. And then…

Cobb, at his best, does a good job of hiding a simple idea. Fatal Dose is such an example. Also, he can produce interesting varieties on the same format – fixed circle of suspects, a poisoning – by varying the narrator. Note not all varieties of that format, which he does A LOT, work. And also there are a couple of books, Sergeant Ross In Disguise and Security Secrets Sold Here that are just batshit crazy and good reads for this reason.

This is not one of those books. To misquote, “when he was good, he was reasonably good, but when he was bad, he was horrid.” This is horrid.

Firstly, there is absolutely no mystery here at all. Nothing at all. We know the criminal who Burmann was investigating and it’s not even an attempted surprise that he is the one behind the kidnapping. Most of this is alternating between Kitty and Brian, who all but break up after a year of marriage, for no real reason other than Brian thinks Kitty thinks he actually made the phone call that lured Burmann away. Kitty’s response is to try and find Burmann, Brian’s is to give up on everything and try and run away to South America.

I don’t know if Cobb was married, but he doesn’t seem to understand women at all. To be fair, he doesn’t really understand men either. Kitty may burst into tears at the situation with Brian at times, but Brian’s behaviour (and general thought processes) are just bizarre at times. It’s really Kitty’s case, so it’s a shame that Brian wasn’t kidnapped with Burmann and we could have focussed on her the whole time. Brian only shows up to the rescue in the finale because he’s following his wife, rather than any detection.

Belton Cobb books are rare, and Lost Without Trace has a very appropriate title. Because maybe this book should have been.

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