Monday, June 26, 2023

Aubrey Nye Hamilton Reviews: Skelton's Guide to Blazing Corpses by David Stafford

The third book in the Skelton’s Casebook series by David Stafford is a fine follow-up to the excellent second title, reviewed earlier on Kevin’s Corner: Skelton's Guide to Blazing Corpses (Allison & Busby, 2022) is set in 1930 and follows the career of barrister Arthur Skelton, who has the reputation of salvaging the most hopeless of defenses.

Here the hopeless defense is of Tommy Prosser, who stands accused of bashing Harold Musgrave over the head and then setting him and his automobile on fire on Guy Fawkes Night. There was no real evidence against Prosser, the local bad guy, the police simply found charging him a quick way to close the case. Skelton’s innate sense of fairness was outraged.

Musgrave’s life did not bear close scrutiny. He was a known bigamist and was facing multiple paternity suits. At least six other women came forward to claim relationships with him. Each of them had an entertaining story to tell, as Musgrave was nothing if not creative. One lady believed that Musgrave was engaged on secret work for the air ministry, another thought he was a location scout for the movie star Tom Mix, a third understood Musgrave was tracking down Russian spies, and a fourth gathered he was working for a Romanian philanthropist. Skelton considered all of the people who had been taken in by the deeply dishonest Musgrave, decided the list of potential suspects in his murder to be legion, and set out to free Prosser.

A second case deals with the cardiac death of a middle-aged lady induced, the coroner believed, by an electric shock treatment provided by a “medical electrician”, who was promptly arrested for manslaughter. His solicitor sent the brief on to Skelton to handle.

On a personal level Skelton’s wife has given up flying and is now focusing on politics; she is a fervent Communist. His clerk Edgar has become engrossed with interior design and the decoration of his new flat. In many ways Skelton simply serves as a straight man for the eccentric people that surround him.

The acknowledgements mention Stafford’s illness during the writing of this book, when his wife Caroline took over, which may account for some small discrepancies in continuity throughout. While the writing is as witty and clever as in its predecessor volumes, some of the plot points are not as neatly wrapped up as they could have been. Still, this is a fine piece of historical fiction, the setting is wonderfully realized and the resolution of Musgrave’s murder is neatly handled. For mystery readers who like humor wrapped around historical settings and sound plots. Recommended.


·         Publisher: Allison & Busby (July 21, 2022)

·         Language: English

·         ISBN-10: 0749027142

·         ISBN-13: 978-0749027148

Aubrey Nye Hamilton ©2023

Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.

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