A MAn iS BeIng MURdErED At 60 CaItHNESS rOAD”
This anonymous message sends Inspector Bull to investigate a house, one seemingly like all the others in Hammersmith. But behind the gray brick façade Bull finds a mystery in the form of Lawrence Sprague, who has just died of lockjaw. The death appears natural, but it’s occurrence, just two months after the death of Sprague’s father, as well as the recent theft of a doctor’s bag containing tetanus and other deadly cultures, leave Bull suspicious of what’s really going on behind those gray brick walls.
The Hammersmith Murders is the first in the Mr. Pinkerton series by David Frome, a pseudonym for Zenith Brown, in which we are introduced to Inspector J. Humphrey Bull (who goes by Humphrey for obvious reasons) of Scotland Yard, and his landlord Mr. David Pinkerton (first name changed to Evan in subsequent books).
Inspector Bull is “a tall man of vast bulk”, gentle, and unassuming. A collector of Dresden figurines who is more like a Saint Bernard puppy than the animal his name brings to mind. He is also a man who knows and is comfortable with where he fits into the world he inhabits.
If, however a draper in Hampstead murdered his wife, or a wife in Wimbledon was found dead in a villain Turnham Green, the commissioner of C.I.D. at Scotland Yard invariably said to his secretary, ‘Send for Inspector Bull.’ Bull was the epitome of middle-class morality. Simple he was; but he was so thoroughly imbued with middle-class ideals, morals, and instincts that the lives and sorrows of that class were an open book to him.”
Mr. Pinkerton on the other hand, is a “little gray man in an old gray suit, unnoticeable in every way.” A timid man who lives under the thumb of the discontented and frowzy Mrs. Pinkerton. Originally a schoolmaster, he now runs a boarding house in Golders Green in which Bull resides. His greatest joy in life is having the opportunity of listening to Bull tell him the stories of his day, and the crimes involved.
Frome has created an interesting detective pairing in the unobtrusive Mr. Pinkerton, who can “imagine depths of wickedness that Bull shuddered at the thought of”, and Bull, who “[n]ot by logic but by intuition did he unravel their secrets”. It is Mr. Pinkerton’s insights (and sometimes his baffling efforts), in combination with Bull’s instinct and persistence, that lead to the culprit. And it is this unlikely relationship that ultimately makes this series quite appealing.
There is an interesting cast of secondary characters that make up the potential victims and criminals. They range from smarmy, to peculiar, but mostly they are quite ordinary, which suits this story perfectly.
The plot is not overly complex. There is quite a bit of coincidence, as well as sub-plots involving complex relationships and romantic entanglements employed as misdirection. Still, it is not hard to pinpoint the villains. Also, Frome does not exactly play fair with the ultimate solution, which depends predominantly on information that the reader is not privy to.
Not an overly exciting, but an enjoyable, easy read that I recommend for it’s charm, endearing characters, and a bit of mystery. Also, having read a subsequent book in the series, The Man from Scotland Yard, I know that there is better to come.
Just one further matter. As Dead Yesterday states in their review, this book is currently out of print, but “is easily available in a cheap but questionable ebook edition”. I will go one step further and say I did buy the ebook edition, but gave up and returned it after the first chapter. The aggravation of re-reading passages and trying to decipher a book that contained innumerable spelling mistakes (toes instead of does, etc.) and missing paragraphs was too much for me. If you wish to read this book, there are vintage paperback copies available on several sites, and I would recommend going this route. I was able to obtain a Dell Mapback edition (my one and only Mapback) at a very reasonable price.
My Judgement – 3.5/5
Prior Rulings – Dead Yesterday