Sunday, April 10, 2011

Vintage Mystery Sunday: Bodies in a Bookshop

Wow. Is it Sunday already? This week has flown by even faster than usual. But, since it is Sunday, it's time for Vintage Mystery Sunday--my chance to feature classic mysteries that I have read and loved before blogging took over my life and I began reviewing everything I read.

This week I'm going way back to one of the first vintage mysteries I discovered after Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh. Bodies in a Bookshop by R. T. Campbell. At the time, I'd never heard of R. T. Campbell and the Dover edition that the public library carried was new to me too. I'd never seen these slim reprints anywhere else. But how could I resist a mystery with a title like that? A mystery and a bookshop? I was sold even before I read the synopsis.

R. T. Campbell is another author who wrote detective novels at the time of WWII. Ruthven Cambell Todd was a Scottish-born poet, scholar, art critc, and fantasy novelist who turned his hand to a series of detective novels under the pen name R. T. Campbell. Unfortunately, he soon abandoned mystery writing for other literary projects and was quickly forgotten as a mystery novelist. At the time Dover came out with the reprint of Bodies in a Bookshop, his detective novels were nearly impossible to find.

And what a treat this reprint is. I was ecstatic to find a copy when rummaging through one of the local used bookshops. Not unlike the protagonist of our story. Botanist Max Boyle visits a "curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road" in London and is himself ecstatic with the bookish treasures he finds there. But then he finds something much more disturbing...two bodies in a back room filled with gas fumes. Boyle seeks help from "The Bishop," Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard. Bishop winds up asking for assistance from Professor John Stubbs, another botanist and amateur criminologist. The play between the professor, the protesting Boyle, and skeptical, world-weary Bishop is entertaining in itself. But the friction between them propels the trio to find the puzzle's solution.

This is a very witty mystery populated with entertaining characters and brisk dialogue. It also contains some of my all-time favorite quotes about bookshops and books. This one in particular:

The trouble with bookshops is that they are as bad as pubs. You start with one and then you drift to another, and before you know where you are you are on a gigantic book-binge.

If that isn't the truth. At least for me. I highly recommend that if you can get your hands on this mystery that you do so. A thoroughly enjoyable vintage mystery read.


J F Norris said...

I like Stubbs a lot. The first R.T. Campbell book I read was Unholy Dying, an impossible crime mystery, also reprinted by Dover but much harder to find for some odd reason than BIAB. Stubbs reminded me of Sir Henry Merrivale - blustery, loves to drink beer, extremely opinionated.

I tried to talk these books up in a reading group I once joined and left within six months. Groups have never been my thing, but I tried my best to assimilate. As my nephews would say: Epic Fail. I left when the other members mercilessly ridiculed my choices on a regular basis. Can't help it if I prefer odd writers and books that are far from contemporary.

I have two other Prof. Stubbs books I found on eBay. There are six books in the series. I have yet to find the other three anywhere for an affordable price.

Bev Hankins said...

That's why I like the blogging world so much. I've been amazed at how many of us (vintage mystery lovers) there are. I wasn't finding anyone in my everyday life that I could talk about these books to....Funny thing is, it took my blog to find out that one of my own grad students loves them. :-)

Yvette said...

I'm going to try and find this, Bev. It really does sound wonderful.