The ghost known to inhabit the Heldar’s antiquarian bookshop hasn’t been seen for many years. But oddly, it’s recently been sighted by several of the staff. One of the clerks, Sally Merton isn’t so bothered by these supposed manifestations as she is by the unwelcome advances of her unpleasant colleague, Victor Butcher. But Sally isn’t the only one to have an unpleasant confrontation, so when he is found dead, stabbed in the back at his desk, many at Heldar’s fall under suspicion. Sally’s situation gives her a prime view of the investigation, and in a position to help Johnny Heldar in finding the murderer.
Originally printed in 1956, The Two Hundred Ghost is the first of four books written by Henrietta Hamilton, all featuring Johnny and Sally Heldar, and the second reprinted by Agora as part of their “Uncrowned Queens of Crime” series.
Set in the world of 1950s London antiquarian booksellers, Hamilton introduces us to her crime-solving duo of Johnny Heldar, and Sally Melton. While we learn quite a bit about Johnny (partner in the family antiquarian bookselling business, served as a Commando experience in WWII) Sally’s history is never given, and she remains something of an enigma. Hopefully this will be fleshed out in the remaining two books. But, this does not mean that she is in any way subservient to Johnny in the investigation. With her valuable observations and insights, she takes a very active role in solving of the case, which is something of a rarity for the time.
The police are convinced that someone in the shop is involved—and there are several viable suspects to consider. Because Butcher was universally unpleasant but had his pet targets in a shell-shocked book packer and a young, mentally limited messenger. But there is also the typist, who vehemently states her joy at his death, and the youngest Heldar, who’s knife is the murder weapon. Knowing the occupants as well as they do, as well as the routine in 200 Charing Cross Road, gives Sally and Johnny a leg up on the police in the investigation. And the recent theft of antiquarian books from other shops adds to the mystery. Was Butcher involved, and if so, did it lead to his murder? Hamilton provides the reader with all the facts in the form of motives, opportunity, and alibis. Although I will admit that in some instances there was a bit of repetition regarding information, it was never to the point that I needed, or wanted to skip over any of it. Much appreciation though for the tidbits regarding antiquarian books and their trade that Hamilton scattered throughout the story. The information provided an insight into that little seen trade, and taught me at least one word I’d never heard before…incunabula.
I’ve been in something of a reading funk lately, and The Two Hundred Ghost finally got me out of it. Most well-read mystery readers won’t have any trouble working out the solution. But Hamilton still manages to provide an interesting surprise or two along the way. While this is by no means in the top tier of mysteries, it is quite well done, and a very entertaining read.
Vintage Mystery Extravaganza – Just the Facts Ma’am 2018 – Who: Bookstore owner
Source – Review Copy (Agora Books via Netgalley)