Friday, March 6, 2015

Death & Mr. Prettyman: Review

Kenneth Giles was a British author wrote ten mysteries under his own name (one non-series) as well as two other series under the names Edmund McGerr and Charles Drummond. Death and Mr. Prettyman (1967) is the third book in the Giles series which features Harry James--who begins the series as a detective sergeant and is currently an acting inspector--and his sergeant Cedric Honeybody. 

In this installment, we are presented with the death of the respectable, elderly solicitor Charles Prettyman during one of London's fabled peasoupers. Prettyman is discovered, knife protruding from his back, in the waiting room of a barrister's office in the very proper Inns of Court. Was he another victim of the "Blue Lady," a serial killer with a taste for smallish men and a penchant for a peculiarly shaped knife? Or did someone use a copy-cat killing to eliminate Prettyman for reasons of their own?

On the surface, Prettyman seems to have been a very harmless and inoffensive solicitor. He was careful in his business matters--managing the affairs of several large estates--and certainly never mixed up in any unsavory circumstances. But then a clerk in Chambers where Prettyman was found is also killed with a knife and a possible witness dies in a fall down a rickety staircase, James and Honeybody begin to think there was more to the solicitor than met the eye. Several trips to the country are called for and James will need to enlist the help of his wife, the "Modest Maidens" Society (a group of female do-gooders), a few old lags, and a peer of the realm to solve the serial killings as well the mystery behind Prettyman's murder.

Giles writes a rather eccentric mystery. Throughout the entire book the dialogue reads like a vaudeville act or an old Abbott and Costello routine. The reader is constantly poised for the "badum-tish" at the end of any given conversation. And yet the camaraderie between James and Honeybody is genuine and a great deal of fun. There are moments when I thought I was in the middle of the "Who's on first" routine and didn't quite follow, but it didn't deter from the enjoyment too much. Not quite as fairly clued as one might hope--a few clues are held a bit too tightly to the chest and James makes a final "research" trip that is not explained until the big reveal at the end, but overall a fun ride. ★★

This counts for the "Lawyer, Judge, etc" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card as well as for Rich's year in crime fiction (this month is 1967) over at Past Offences.

Porterman is taking Liverpool apart. The police of four counties, by the Home Secretary's orders, are providing him with three hundred men on a three-shift basis. At this moment you could steal the whole of Manchester with out anybody noticing a thing wrong. [Superintendent Hawker; p. 25]

"I know what Miss Christie meant," said Hawker. "She's responsible for every little tea-leaf wearing gloves these days. Until she told 'em they didn't know about crime detection. She should have been locked up years ago." [pp. 26-7]

Nobody's met more loonies than Sir Bradbury. They say he even gibbers to himself when he thinks he's alone. [Hawker; p. 29]

He's devilling a county-court case for me. Nothing to it; two toilet bowls broken, but a matter of principle on both sides. We make our money from principles, Inspector. [Hewson; p. 46]

G: If Scobie gets mean tell him to go get another boy.
H: That's the spirit. When I hear that, I know a man's arrived, sir. That's the spirit.
[Greenaway, Hearman; p. 70]

I've seen--no that's not true--I've heard of them coming suddenly, like a thoroughbred at the eleven-furlong post. That makes us clerks happy. [Hearman; p. 72]

H: Perhaps I may buy a round in celebration of that dry-cleaning case, a forensic triumph.
G: My opponent was twenty-three, sweating, tongue-tied, and clueless, poor devil.
H: Always take the credit, laddie, because you'll get the blame. Such reputation as I have originally rested on three monstrous coincidences, a doting judge, a senile witness and the fact that old Bromley--before your time--broke his upper plate a quarter through his final speech. 
[Hewson, Greenaway; p. 73]

Whilst at home he was relaxed in dressing gown and slippers, he found the formal hotel occasions trying. And if Elizabeth was eupeptic at breakfast, which was her inclination, Honeybody resembled nothing quite so much as a large grinning, mustachioed bear, its stomach almost audibly welcoming the day's promise of food and drink. [p. 89]
...Honeybody, beaming and exuding a smell of stout, entered.
"Holy mackerel," said Harry.
"Disguise, fading into the yokel background, sir."
   The Sergeant's great stomach perilously rested on the upper edge of riding breeches, spread taut against vast thighs. Riding boots, polished bright, encased the size twelve feet. A checked shirt with a red cravat and a vast Harris tweed jacket with patch pockets completed the picture. [pp. 154-5]


fredamans said...

I love your reference to being in the middle of a 'Who's on First' routine... made me laugh. I was thinking this might have too much banter for me. I like my mysteries to be mysterious, even scary.
Great review!

Peggy Arthurs said...

Don't you just love Crime Fiction of the Year!? I do. I like the title of this one and I like quirky but I'm not sure I'd go for that bantering back and forth so much. A little of it maybe...