One of my great finds this year has been the prolific Golden Age author Ernest Robertson Punshon (1872-1956). Writing as E. R. Punshon, he released 35 books featuring Bobby Owen, an Oxford-educated policeman who worked his way up through the Scotland Yard ranks. He wrote another five featuring Sergeant Bell, a plodding, lugubrious London detective who nevertheless always reached a satisfactory conclusion in his cases. Still another 20 books were stand-alone mysteries. Dorothy L. Sayers regarded Punshon’s work highly, saying that “all his books have that elusive something which makes them count as literature, so that we do not gulp them furiously down to get to the murderer lurking at the bottom, but roll them slowly and deliciously upon the tongue like old wine.” While I don’t like them quite that much, I enjoy reading Punshon, sometimes more for his portrayal of England during the first half of the 20th century than for his plots, which are not always as solid as one could hope.
In Music Tells All, published by Victor Gollancz in 1948, Bobby Owen and Sergeant Bell, promoted now to Inspector, team up on a case that moves back and forth between a village and London. The story starts with Bobby and his wife Olive who need a place to live. She asks to see a home at a comfortable distance from his job at Scotland Yard. Expecting a crowd of competing seekers, they rush out only to find a quiet village with a house that seems perfect. The landlord names a rental fee far less than what he could get in this time of extreme scarcity and they jump at the lease. They soon learn that an odd neighbor is given to playing her piano tempestuously at all hours. Everyone in the village gives her a wide berth, except for their landlord who seems to be simultaneously fascinated and repulsed.
Bobby is distracted by a jewelry heist in London which involves a wild car chase through the city streets. One of the rings from the robbery is found in the village where Bobby just moved and the body of a stranger shows up in a nearly dismantled bomb shelter, bringing in Inspector Bell. The obvious suspect is a chauffeur who disappeared about the same time but several of the neighbors warrant closer inspection. Bobby doesn’t understand how his new village is tied to the robbery but can see that it is. Poor Olive is constantly searching for food for the two of them.
There aren’t enough clues to suggest the actual culprit and the motivation behind the crimes so the ending requires too much explanation, but all in all this is a good story, describing as it does life in post-war England and the citizenry determined to make do and get by.
The Kindle edition features a new introduction by crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.
- File Size: 1185 KB
- Print Length: 270 pages
- Publisher: Dean Street Press (July 22, 2016)
- Publication Date: July 22, 2016
- ASIN: B01IYDCH28
Aubrey Hamilton © 2017
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal IT projects by day and reads mysteries at night.