Crampton of the Chronicle is back! The crime reporter of the Chronicle, a local paper in Brighton, Colin Crampton has some developed some fairly cynical attitudes over the years. Happily he has also acquired some fairly nifty skills of a dubious nature to get him in and out of buildings and sticky situations. Not to mention the lovely, fast thinking and extremely resourceful Shirley, his girlfriend. When murder, past dangers and future crimes are all at risk, Colin must rack his brains to solve three problems, all in double quick time. In a story which vibrates with comedy, as hired thugs with strange names, women who gossip and dubious newspaper modelling are all part of a complex plot which is carried off with great aplomb. As fast moving as its predecessors, this is a book where the tension of possible imminent serious injury or death is diffused by the quips and quotes of the lead characters.
Set in 1965, this is a world of landline phones, news in papers rather than online, and clubs for gentlemen who play cards. Not that Colin is confident that all will go to his complicated plan at all times, but he has an uncanny ability to read people and decide the best way to proceed. As always Bartram has a way with characters, in their names, “Coldbody” being an accurate description, and their distinguishing features such as a nose that “dominated his face, like it had just landed there and decided to colonise the place”. Their actions always fit in with their established patterns of behaviour, as editor Frank Figgis decides to smoke only black cigarettes until the paper’s owner’s funeral, after the disposal of his black tie following “what happened at…Uncle Whitlow’s wake”. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this funny and extremely enjoyable book.
This cheeky book opens with the dissolute Viscount Rackham recruiting his Saturday “Little Darling” or girlfriend, before the news breaks that his father has died. Colin discovers a dead body which disturbs him a little, but he keeps his head to make sure that he discovers a significant amount of money and a display of cards which will propel the story as he tries to discover the who, why and how of this first death. He then learns of a long standing crisis for one family and how there are plans to help, and must deal with the threat to his job and the very paper he works for together with his friends. He knows in all this he must get his story, while employing all the tricks and subterfuges he knows. Always with him, encouraging and enabling the surprises and hustles he can imagine, and some he cannot, Shirley brings an Australian brand of quick thinking and opportunism that make the two of them a formidable team.
Colin’s narration is a continual joy, as he admits that he may have missed the lesson in journalism that covered being “stuck in a house with a dead body, a fainted woman, and a fierce dog” . His narration means that the reader finds out what is going on just as he does, but his longer term plan is kept close to his chest, just as the cards are in a memorable game of poker. Not that the reader has to understand cards to follow the action, as Colin and Shirley have to practice their skills in cheating and distracting respectively. The beginnings of “Page 3” girls is covered as Shirley robustly refuses to engage in glamour modelling, and there is the beginning of a lamentable trend to reduce the serious news in daily newspapers. This book reveals much of the time when journalism was an undertaking beyond sound bites and journalists employed complicated stratagems. It is funny, clever and immensely readable, and I greatly look forward to the next instalment of the Deadline Murder Series.