Bobby Owen has had a rather dull three years as a Police Constable, “even motorists themselves seemed to suffer from an epidemic of good behavior when he was near.” Unfortunately, he has also ticked off his superiors by revealing his dislike of “night club duty”, which is why he’s now on ordinary patrol duty in Hampstead. But then Sir Christopher Clarke is found murdered in his billiards room, and his safe in the study at the opposite end of the house has been emptied by a burglar. Life for Bobby Owen is about to liven up considerably.
I found that I was rather torn regarding how I felt about this one. The plot is an intricate one. Punshon gives us murder, robbery, potential embezzlement, mysterious strangers withholding information, and hints of family secrets waiting to be revealed. He builds tension through several twists in the plot, leading to an exciting confrontation that resolves a portion of the mystery, but then things begin fall flat.
The first half to two-thirds of the book was very good, after that it just started slowing down. At times it felt as if the story almost came to a standstill. For example, the facts of the case (of which there were many, and they kept piling up) were summed up several times, yet each time no movement was made toward a resolution. Even as the story nears its end Bobby’s thoughts are that “this case consisted almost entirely of points for which more explanation was needed”. The book becomes just a bit longwinded. To be entirely truthful, I almost stopped reading as soon as the culprit was revealed…in a confession that took up 4 chapters. And most annoying, the police don’t have anything to do with solving the murder which is central to the plot. The murder wasn’t even actually solved; it was only the confession which brought about a resolution to the case.
What I did like was the narrative and the dialogue. Punshon used an informal style and dry humor which I found very refreshing.
‘No, sir,’ said Bobby. Mitchell surveyed him with a benevolent eye. ‘What I like about you,’ he said, ‘is the way you encourage conversation, always an apt remark to make, some interesting comment to pass.’ ‘Thank you, sir,’ said Bobby.”
The partnership between the “naturally loquacious” Superintendent Mitchell and the eager Bobby is very entertaining to watch. Mitchell takes a liking to Bobby, becoming a mentor to him. Mitchell delights in setting tasks intended to sharpen Bobby’s thinking, but also to exploit his talents, often for Mitchell’s own amusement.
While I wasn’t entirely satisfied by my first E. R. Punshon, there is enough to enjoy in it for me to say that I will come back to him in the future.
My Ruling – 3.75/5