Sheep’s Clothing – A “Detective Frolic” by Austin Lee

This is another crime classic reprinted fairly recently, this time by Greyladies. How much Miss Flora Hogg becomes a series detective is not clear, but this 1955 novel introduces her as a single lady schoolteacher who is enabled at the death of her police Superintendent father to give up her career and becomes a Private Investigator. It is a promising beginning in which her indeterminate age allows her to be active in pursuit of the guilty, yet mature enough to be taken seriously. While her first case involves the residents of her village, she is able to dash up to London to further investigate the murky doings which have led to murder. She also seems to enjoy friendly relations with the current police force in the area, so she is allowed access to their findings. The Inspector is a man of commendable intuition, and this is very much a joint effort at solving a mystery beyond murder.

When Miss Hogg first sets out her new business plate, she is far from certain that she will attract a clients, so asks her friend Milly to stay, thus providing culinary humour throughout the book. Miss Emily is a redoubtable lady of over eighty (so positively ancient in the 1950s!) who has an annoying problem with things being moved and going missing from her long deceased father’s study. Miss Hogg quickly sizes up the situation and offers her help, which involves checking the first of several people who have suddenly become incredibly interested in her father’s effects. Meanwhile, a visiting Bishop is causing excitement in the Vicar’s household, then has the misfortune to end up dead in the study. A murdered senior cleric certainly demands investigation, and soon interrogation of all of the American citizens. Some seem to have something to hide, while other scholars deny any interest in the late explorer’s long stored collection.

This book is subtitled “A Detective Frolic”, and it fits into the bracket of cosy and humourous murder mystery. Later in the book a character emerges called Lord Hounslow, whose concern at his phone bill threatens to obscure some important evidence, especially when he is assured that he will not be charged. This is a spirited book, with a memorable detective who solves an ingenious plot. Alongside the humour there is some fascinating problem solving and this is a controlled piece of writing which draws the reader in and maintains interest throughout. I will certainly be looking for another Miss Hogg mystery to follow her adventures on the basis of this novel.

This is a Greyladies edition which I discovered in Heffers’ Bookshop in Cambridge. Further investigation (Thank you Detective Fiction and Literature department!) shows that I can get hold of at least one more by this author, so there goes my pocket money again!

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