The Poker Game Mystery by Peter Bartram – Colin Crampton reports for the Chronicle again!


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. 

The Comedy Cub Mystery by Peter Bartram – Some violence and appalling jokes in Brighton, 1965

A comedy murder mystery sounds unusual, but the effective notion of this book is that the actual murder is quickly described, and the detection of the true murderer is the main action. Not that the murder is the only thing worrying the hero, crime reporter Colin Crampton. He has to cope with strangers who seem to have a problem with his continued existence, a job which he loves being on the line, and a lot of remarkably unfunny comedians. Fortunately he has some help from his girlfriend, tough and resourceful Shirley, who frequently acts as bodyguard, motivator and companion in one tight spot after another. Wisecracking, comedy dialogue and some over the top characters make this novel set in Brighton in 1965 a genuinely funny read, with little respect for the conventions of detective writing. Nightclubs, comedy clubs and police cells all feature as backdrops to some violence and appalling jokes. I really enjoyed this well paced and engaging novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.


The novel opens with a News editor on the Chronicle, the wonderfully named Frank Figgis, bemoaning the fact that a libel writ has been issued against the paper, specifically Sidney Pinker, theatre critic. Not that the information is quickly divulged; an extended anecdote about a misrepresented bull distracts the attention. Before Colin can think of a way to solve the problem, Sidney is arrested for the murder of the theatrical agent he is supposed to have libelled. Unfortunately or fortunately for the free wheeling investigations of Colin and Shirley, as he narrates, the investigating officer is Tomkins, and his second in command Ted. Colin ironically comments “In the Sherlock Holmes Award for Brilliant Deductions, Ted would bring up the rear.”.For reasons that are not completely clear, Colin finds himself in a dubious situation as he tries to discover who needed Bernstein, unscrupulous agent, dead. In a fascinating element of the book, the narrative then moves to include the real character of Max Miller, famously successful comedian, who has died leaving his famous blue book of smutty jokes. As a potential suspect, drunken comic Ernie Winkle needs to be investigated, which is another excuse for a bad routine in a seedy club. Unfortunately, a pair of mysterious characters, Gino and Willis, seem to have orders to deal with Colin as he emerges from the club. They are not alone in apparently acting under orders to liquidate Colin, as another challenging pair, Bert and Dean, also pose a threat. An underground dweller provides assistance, and Colin has to face riddles of every sort as he tries to clear Sidney. Happily Shirley is often on hand to adopt disguises and do battle in every sense to save the day, as Colin has to put everything on the line to get to the truth.


Part adventure story, part politically incorrect comedy, this is a fast moving and funny book. I really enjoyed this novel, the characters and even some of the jokes, though the story and dialogue were much more amusing. This is an entertaining read with sustained my interest and involvement throughout, and the central mystery was far from straightforward. This is a mature and confident book from an experienced and knowledgeable author, and I  would recommend it as a light and satisfying read.


Now we have returned from our break in Worcester, I am going to sort out my June books and go to some events in the Derby Book Festival. We booked the tickets a while ago, so I am not entirely sure what I am going to – but no doubt we will work it out. Watch this space for more!