Saturday, March 14, 2015

Night Train to Paris: Review

Laurence....had no idea what sort of an emergency Edward had become entangled. Selling peppers and spices appeared such a harmless and peaceful trade unless, as a result of the pepper shortage, someone had produced a recipe for synthetic pepper which was worth a fortune to its possessor and Edward had got it. There was a gang of ruffians, mused Laurence...ruffians subsidized by rival pepper firms in the City who were prepared to stop at nothing to wrest the Sneezo formula from poor Edward. (p. 51)

Edward Logan is a stuffy, predictable, highly respectable businessman. His manservant says you can set your watch by him and he always knows what to expect from Mr. Logan. But then, on the day Edward decides he's been a fool over a young woman and, on the advice of his lawyer, goes to ask for his letters back and to tell her good-bye, he becomes impulsive. 

EL: I've been a fool...what are you laughing at?
F: I thought you were going to say that. There is a faintly sheepish aspect about you this afternoon which is immediately recognizable to any experienced solicitor. It is almost invariable accompanied by the form of words you have just uttered. Or some equivalent synonym. (Edward Logan, Fenchurch; p. 12)

She is not at home when he arrives at her apartment, but her door is unlocked so he walks on in. He finds a note which asks someone (quite probably the suspected other man in the case) to wait as she'll be right back. As he stands looking out the window and tries to decide what to do, he sees a man walking purposefully towards the apartment. When the man comes into the building and his footsteps can be heard on the stairway, Logan is again impulsive and dashes into a closet.

His suspicions about Betty Alton's relationship to the man are put to rest when she arrives home to find her brother (!) in her apartment. But Logan has barely breathed a sigh of relief before Stephen Alton reveals that he's managed to get his hands on some top secret plans, is attempting to avoid the authorities, and wants to sell the plans back to the Russians. And then the Russians show up--demanding the plans and searching the apartment and the occupants for their precious secrets with no success. The Russian spies are quite amused to find a secret lover hidden in the closet and they appear to discard Logan as a prime player in their particular drama. They exit with Alton and Logan runs away from the scene. 

He becomes convinced that it might be a practical idea to leave London for a bit...just in case the Russians don't find what they're looking for and decide that he might have it. So he arranges with Greene, his manservant, for his bags to be packed and tickets to be bought for an unexpected trip to France. He then calls his twin brother Laurence, who lives in Paris, and asks him to meet him at the Gare du Nord  and put him up in a hotel for a bit.

Laurence is baffled by the odd request. Every time his brother has visited, it has been arranged long in advance, down to the last detail. His brother never does anything on the spur of the moment. Edward is very mysterious and will only tell him that it's a matter of life and death and that all will be explained when he sees Laurence. Laurence's bewilderment increases when he arrives at the station late to find an almost empty train and no sign of his brother. He heads to Edward's compartment and finds his luggage, passport, tickets, and hotel reservations laid out for custom inspection but Edward has vanished without a trace! Before he can decide what to do, the conductor comes and addresses him as Mr. Edward Logan. 

Certain signs among his brother's things (items out of place, slits in the lining of the suitcases) and his brother's ominous statement cause Laurence to be a little impulsive himself. He assumes his brother's identity, determined to discover what happened to the normally unadventurous Edward...and avenge him if necessary. Laurence was a member of the French Foreign Legion and the French Resistance during the war so he has no problem with a little adventure. He just wishes he knew what it was all about.

Enter Tommy Hambleton and Inspector Bagshott. Hambleton is attached to the Foreign Office and interested in the fate of a certain German doctor, known to have been carrying secret plans for a device that could play havoc with enemy troops. Bagshott is with Scotland Yard and wants to know who had it in for Stephen Alton. He also knows that Herr Muntz disappeared overboard while on a Mr. Stephen Alton's ship and the papers may or may not have gone over the side as well. 

Muntz--let's call him that--was carrying a briefcase containing papers which he said were worth vast sums to the Russians and when the British Government saw them they would dance ring-o'-roses round Nelson's Column. So said the second engineer. (Bagshott; p. 55)
Hambleton gets on the track of a trio of Russians and follows the trail to France while Bagshott investigates in England. Things really get interesting as Laurence, the Russians, and Hambleton all race to find each other and the missing plans.

This is another fun outing by Manning Coles, the neighborly writing duo of Adelaide Frances Oke Manning and Cyril Henry Coles. Spy thrillers aren't my usual fare, but this particular series is breezy, witty, and humorous. There are more coincidences and unlikely events than you can shake a stick at--but you don't care, dead bodies accumulate at an alarming rate, and there is, of course, no real mystery about who did what to whom, but it's a rollicking good yarn. The only real mystery is what did Alton do with those darn plans? ★★★★

Published in 1952, this fulfills the "Mode of Transportation" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card and with several deaths by strangulation it also fulfills that category in the Mystery Reporter Challenge.

Challenges fulfilled: 100 Plus Challenge, How Many Books, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Cloak & Dagger, Mount TBR Challenge, A-Z Reading Challenge, Monthly Key Word, European Reading Challenge, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, My Kind of Mystery, Mystery Reporter, A-Z Mystery Author


fredamans said...

I love mysteries and thrillers that have humor in them. Sounds like a fine read to fit that bill! Great review!

Gram said...

I love this series and have collected as many as I can find. I am happy to see someone else enjoys them.
I think the first three or four are my favorites.

Anonymous said...

Thanks bev - not actually read anythign by Coles but this like a really good read.