Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dead of a Counterplot: Review

Dead of a Counterplot (1962) is the first in a series of academically inclined detective novels by Simon Nash.  Nash is the pen name used by Raymond Chapman, Emeritus Professor of English at London University and an Anglican priest, for five mystery novels published in the 1960s. Professor Chapman worked as a non-stipendiary priest in Southwark, and is currently on the staff at St Mary's Barnes in Southwest London. His police detectives are Inspector Montero and Sergeant Jack Springer, unofficially aided by the gifted amateur and lecturer at North London College, Adam Ludlow. Chapman has also written many books on religious themes and English literature. For more information on Nash/Chapman check out gadetection.  I owe Jon (author of the post) a great debt--previously when I went searching for information on Nash, there was pretty much nothing to be found.  Jon  did his own bit of detective work and tracked Chapman to his current post at St. Mary's.

I've said it many times, so frequent readers of the blog should know: I do love me an academic mystery.  And I was so pleased when I stumbled upon Nash's Killed by Scandal several years ago.  He wrote only five detective novels and I've managed to get my hands on four of them (Dead of a Counterplot; Killed by Scandal; Death Over Deep Water; and Unhallowed Murder).  I'm still on the hunt for the fifth--Dead Woman's Ditch--but fortunately I have two more to read while I hunt.

Counterplot is Ludlow's first venture into amateur detective work. He's visiting with a fellow lecturer and warden of Mudge Hall when Stuart Latham, sub-warden of the men's residence, comes bursting in to tell them that there is a female student strangled in one of the rooms.  Jenny Hexham is the woman--a staunch proponent of the College Communist Party and one who is not willing to let new recruits slip out of the Party's matter what it takes. Even blackmail.  The room just happens to belong to Robert Trent, one of Ludlow's most promising students, who had wandered into the Party's clutches.  So, naturally, the English lecturer must get involved and look for clues and try to clear Trent's name. Trent hasn't helped matters by disappearing from College and he shoots to the top of Inspector Montero's suspect list.

But there are plenty of other suspects too.  There's the suspicious owner of a bookstore--well-known as a Party sympathizer. There's Jenny's cousin who now stands in line to scoop an inheritance that Jenny would have had a share in.  There's Latham who may have known Jenny better than a lecturer should.  There's Henry Prentice who seems much interested in the whereabouts of the missing Trent--but does he want to help or hinder?  And there's the little matter of the Polish student and the porter and a set of keys.  And everybody seems interested in Jenny's missing bracelet.  A bracelet that she said held the secret to her stash of blackmail evidence.  Ludlow will converse with Communists and dawdle at dance halls; he will be slugged and half-strangled himself before he produces an esoteric bit of knowledge that helps bring the crime home to the proper quarter.

This is another lovely little academic mystery to add to my campus crime shelf.  Sure, Ludlow really ought to let the police just do their job, but where's the fun in cozy crime novels if the amateur doesn't dabble in danger?  The clues are fair and even the esoteric knowledge is well within the grasp of an academic with a well-rounded education.  But--supposing the reader doesn't get that clue--it certainly fits with the information we've been given about the characters.  I learned to like Adam Ludlow in Killed by Scandal and it was very nice to go back and see him in his initial outing.  I didn't quite figure it out--although I did get the essential clue.  I just didn't realize that it could point in more than one direction.  Great fun for four stars.

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