Friday, March 17, 2017

E. R. Punshon's Diabolic Candelabra

It was Curtis Evans' blog The Passing Tramp that let me know of the existence of E. R. Punshon, and even of Dean Street Press, the publisher that has recently reissued all his Bobby Owen mysteries. And it was the fact that Dean Street Press occasionally makes one of their books available as a free Kindle eBook that resulted in it arriving on my Kindle.

A series of very happy accidents.

Bobby Owen is, we are told in the opening paragraph, the "head of the somewhat scanty Wychshire C.I.D." and the "secretary to the chief constable, Colonel Glynne." More immediately in this novel, he's the husband to his wife Olive, who has just two remaining of a sample of "heavenly" chocolates. They're sold at a local shop, a friend of Olive's wants to offer them at the church bazaar, and she needs to find the source with the help of her policeman husband. They've got a name, Floyd, and Bobby Owen has a notion who this might be. Miss Floyd "lives in a lonely sort of cottage near Barsley Forest village, but right in the forest." The main events of the plot take place in that forest.

The year the novel comes out is 1942, but the war is only lightly present. As a policeman, Bobby Owen has an extra petrol allotment that allows him to drive off to the forest. There are blackouts and air wardens. But the novel mostly takes place an amusingly fantastical landscape. There's the cottage right in the forest. There's a hermit named Peter. There's a wild child named Loo, and they've sent a truancy officer after her:

"What happened?" Olive asked, passing over the deplorable incident of the nettles. "I mean, about the school?"
"A lady came," Mary answered. "She had very big boots with square toes, and she made you think she was always saying you mustn't. Loo went into the garden, and the lady followed her, and we told her not to, the lady, I mean, but she wouldn't listen, and Loo went out of the garden, and the lady followed, and I told her not to, and she said to hold my tongue, and I did, and Loo went into the forest, and the lady followed, and next morning I had to go to the village to ask them to send to look for her because she hadn't come back, and we still had her bag full of papers."
"What about Loo?" Bobby asked, interested.
"Oh, we didn't much mind about Loo," Mary explained. "She sleeps in a tree or somewhere and then she comes home when she is ready. It was the lady we were worried about, because we didn't think she would really like sleeping in a tree."
"One never knows," murmured Bobby, "but perhaps not."
This is rather representative of the genial tone of the book.

It's the hermit Peter who has the recipe to the mystery ingredient that makes the chocolates so good, and it's Peter who disappears, making this (possibly) a police matter.

A second disappearance of a local shopkeeper makes it definitely a police matter, but who, if anybody, is actually dead isn't resolved until quite late in the book. There's also a local manor house owned by the Rawdon family. There's also a search on for several family heirlooms of the Rawdon family, lost fifty years before: two El Greco paintings, and the diabolic candelabra of the title, a work in silver by Bellini.

The lightness and the amused tone of the writing worked for me. The only real problem was that there were really at least one too many McGuffins: the El Greco paintings could certainly have been dispensed with, and I'm not really sure even the Diabolic Candelabra was actually necessary.

But it was a successful promotion by Dean Street Press as far as I was concerned. The first one was free and now I'm hooked: I'll be reading other Bobby Owen mysteries.

Golden Age. Policeman Bobby Owen. My Reader's Block Vintage Mystery Scavenger's Hunt. 

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