The Custard Corpses by M J Porter – a wartime mystery with surprises and twists.

The Custard Corpses by MJ Porter

As titles for murder mysteries go, this must be one of the most bewildering. It actually covers an excellent murder mystery novel, where there are bodies, and a fascinating link with an innocent pudding. Set in the dark days of the 1940s, this book is an intelligent recall of difficult days of blackouts and the ever present risk of a return to the bombing which damaged so much of the midlands, including Birmingham, where the story is largely set in 1943. Chief Inspector Sam Mason cannot help brooding over an old case which marked his career and was an obsession for his late boss. The incisive writing shows a man who works doggedly for results with the assistance of a young woman who has inspired organisational skills.This book can be termed as shocking, certainly it is surprising, and it has much to say about bad treatment of children. It is a well plotted book, with complex investigations. It anchors on well researched wartime elements; a magazine known for its illustrations and photographs, rationing and wartime travel. There are hints of humour despite the grave subject matter, and the importance of love and family relationships. This is a carefully written book which is lively and fast moving which has plenty of atmosphere. The characters are consistent and impressively drawn. I was very interested in having the opportunity to read and review this fascinating and very readable book. 

The book opens with a strange tale of an artist departing his rented room as he rushes to fulfil a mysterious commission and receives payment that will change his life. The story then switches to Sam Mason, dealing with the twinges of pain associated with his fighting in the First World War. His wife is very worried about their son, away fighting in the present conflict. There are reminders, however, of an unsolved case, the twentieth anniversary of which is nearly arrived. A young boy, Robert McFarlane, was found dead, drowned, outside a local hall. Sam was not in charge of the investigation, but still felt keenly the anguish of the child’s family, especially when he receives a visit from the boy’s sister. She has acquired a piece of information which may well start a new lead in the investigation which has never properly been closed. As he takes his first tentative steps towards discovering the true extent of the implications of the murder of the child, a number of surprising breakthroughs arrive to tax him. Can he get the support of his immediate superior to continue what ought to be done? Will those closest to him make a difference? How much persistence and dogged determination will Constable O’Rourke need to show to help Sam make the breakthroughs he so desperately needs?

This is a sophisticated and sensitively written book of memorable crimes that have haunted lives. It is fiction, but has the feel of grim realty in some instances. It is a book undercut by war, but mainly in terms of its effects rather than actively pursued. It makes several valid points about the men who are not away fighting, whether they have obvious injuries or illnesses, as Sam tries not to speculate too much about those who are still in civilian roles. The presence of women police officers does not seem to excite much comment from other characters, even though there were still only three hundred and eighty five by 1945. This is a very solidly written book which I found intriguing and informative. I recommend this book as a strongly constructed book of wartime investigation and some realistic characters.