Before he leaves on his holiday, Max Boyle goes on a search through the bookshops of London. This leads him to a “curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road” where he finds several treasures—and then something much more disturbing. There is a distinct smell of gas coming from a back room. When he finds the door to the back room bolted, he breaks through and finds two dead bodies on the floor. Unfortunately, this isn’t his first suspicious death, which leads him to call Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard (aka “The Bishop”). And there’s worse to come, because Bishop calls in Boyle’s boss, botanist and amateur criminologist Professor John Stubbs. Boyle just wanted to go away on holiday—now he’s stuck helping to solve a murder.
I was led to R. T. Campbell be a recent review of Murder of Madame by TomCat over at Beneath the Stains of Time. His review set me on a search for Campbell’s books. Bodies in a Bookshop was the first to arrive and I immediately started reading.
Campbell’s plot begins well. What starts as an investigation into murder, becomes an intriguing tangle involving stolen books, pornographic literature, and blackmail. But then it starts to derail. The investigation focuses on a small set of suspects, and follows a very straight line along which each suspect is individually discounted (by virtue of alibi or intuition) until it becomes exceedingly clear exactly who the culprit is. Even the red herrings Campbell lays out don’t create much of a diversion. And when the wrongdoer is confronted, the outcome is also quite evident—and inescapable.
That’s not to say that there isn’t much to enjoy about Bodies in a Bookshop. While the story itself falters, the characterizations, and the interactions between the ever protesting Boyle, amiable and enthusiastic Stubbs, and world-weary Bishop are excellent. Campbell’s character descriptions are entertaining in themselves. Especially those of Stubbs, who has often been compared to John Dickson Carr’s characters, Sir Henry Merrivale and Dr, Gideon Fell.
Once his head was comfortably swathed in vile, grey smoke, adding to his resemblance to a bulky Miltonian fallen angel, he beamed at us.
It is impossible to deter the old man for long. He has as much bounce as a squash-ball.”
I definitely believe that Campbell is an author worth giving another try. I’ve also ordered a copy of Unholy Dying, so fingers crossed!
My Judgment – 3.5/5
Vintage Mystery Extravaganze – 2011 Vintage Mystery Challenge — Book 8 of 16