Work in the pictures department of National Press Archives has been severely disrupted of late. Frank Morningside, an archive assistant, has been the recipient of a series of pranks and increasingly malicious poisoned pen letters. When the situation becomes intolerable and begins to influence his work, Toby Lorn, a close friend the Heldars and head of the pictures department, decides to call on his friends Johnny and Sally Heldar for help. But then Morningside is found dead, lying in the doorway of his office, killed by a box of glass negatives that have crashed down on his head. The Heldars find themselves investigating a murder case, can they stop a murderer before they kill again?
Like many others I had never heard of author Henrietta Hamilton, but with the release of Answer in the Negative by Agora Books, she has recently been brought back into print. Her series of four books, written from 1956 to 1959, features husband and wife detectives Johnny and Sally Heldar.
Set in the world of 1950s journalism, the novel follows antiquarian booksellers and amateur detectives Johnny and Sally Heldar. First, just a little clarification regarding this crime-solving duo. Johnny is the bookseller/detective who served with the Commandos, Sally is technically the “stay-at-home” mother of two. Yes, you do see the typical 1950s gender roles here, but while Sally’s role is initially more supportive I did not see her as subservient to Johnny. She takes an active role in the investigation, and her observations and insights are valuable to the solving of the case.
Hamilton creates quite a few red herring via her suspects. Teddy, the errand boy and potential prankster who’s dislike of Morningside is apparent; Michael Knox, a volatile Irishman with a habit of withholding answers; Serena, Morningside’s former fiancé; the fastidious Miss Quimper who argues with Morningside; as even Toby, who seems to have more than a boss’s interest in Serena.
While the plot started out slowly, with Sally and Johnny merely observing the office and its occupants, it picked up quickly and moved swiftly through to a very satisfying conclusion. In addition to the mystery, it was really intriguing to get an insight into the way newspaper cuttings and photos were handled before computers
Answer in the Negative is a delightful, entertaining read. As I stated earlier this is one of four crime novels written by Hamilton. I for one am hoping that Agora prints the remaining three books quickly!
My Judgment – 4/5
Source – Review Copy (Agora Books via Netgalley)
Previous Judgments – The Puzzle Doctor @ In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Kate @ Cross Examining Crime
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Vintage Mystery Challenge 2017: Scavenger Hunt – Damsel in Distress
Calendar of Crime Reading Challenge – May #2: Author’s birth month