Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Dead Against My Principles: Review

In my experience, a body you can't identify didn't ought to be there.

Dead Against My Principles (1960) by Kenneth Hopkins is a lovely little post-World War II era jaunt (to put it in the terminology of two of our protagonists. Eighty-one-year-old Dr. William Blow and seventy-nine-year-old Professor Gideon Manciple, two donnish fellows who have been spending their time annotating great tomes of poetry and writing treatises on ancient coinage (respectively) find themselves on a terrifically adventurous jaunt when Dr. Blow is called upon by Inspector Harte of Scotland Yard to identify the body of one of his Oxford classmates. There is no question of foul play--the equally elderly Simon Blunt apparently died peacefully in his bed at home, but there had been no doctor in recent attendance and there are no near relations readily available to identify the ex-financier.

Murdered sir? I didn't suggest that. Nor do I think it likely. An old gentleman of eighty-odd might easily be found dead in his bed.

But then Inspector Harte's troubles begin. While there may be no hint of foul play, Dr. Blow insists that the body in the morgue is not Simon Blunt. There's the tiny issue of the missing appendix. Or rather the absence of the scar which was produced when Blunt's appendix was removed.

"Appendix, you know. Leaves a scar. None of the Roman emperors had it, not the well-known ones, anyhow. Neither has this poor fellow, Inspector, you will notice. So he can't be Simon Blunt." [Dr. William Blow]
"Oh, can't he," said Inspector Harte. "Well, he was wearing Simon Blunt's pyjamas."
"I still think you ought to have looked for his name in the back of his watch," said Dr. Blow.

 And that, of course, is the problem facing the good inspector. If this body isn't Simon Blunt, then where is he? And why is there a dead man wearing his pyjamas and getting himself found in Simon Blunt's bed? And why did Blunt move himself back and forth from the family castle to his small cottage and back again? When did the massive (and almost empty) refrigerator get installed in the castle...and why? Was (Is?) Simon Blunt a smuggler? And why won't the nephews who have been living off the million pounds dear old uncle bequeathed them ahead of death duties come home for the funeral? And, of course, most importantly, was anybody murdered at all?

When Blunt's sister Simonetta shows up to help identify the body, she and her donnish friends decide to help the police get to the bottom of things. They will unearth a tatooist that can put in scars and take them out again, discover the clue of the corpse who missed his own funeral, get themselves locked in the castle with Inspector Harte and Sergeant Cotton, and do a little burgling job at the local undertaker's before it's all over. 

This book is an enormous amount of fun. Dr. Blow is the epitome of the absent-minded professor who will manage to bring his favorite academic hobby-horse to bear on any conversation. He is also an incurable romantic who is quite sure there is some complicated plot full of dark deeds and evil-doers at the heart of the Simon Blunt affair. The three amateur detectives are really quite incorrigible in their bumbling efforts to assist the police--but they do manage in the most round-about way to unearth all the proper clues without unraveling the plot in the least. That honor is left the good inspector and his sergeant. Not quite fair play, but old hands at the mystery game will see the basic plot well in advance. Perhaps a bit of a disappointment for those who like a more challenging puzzle--but well worth reading for the humor, wit, and antics of the protagonists--both the elderly trio and Scotland Yard men. ★★★★

This counts for the "Clock/Timepiece" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt Card.

The first essential quality in a policeman is patience. (p. 14)

"I'll ask the questions," the inspector said a little testily [to his sergeant]. "You just be ready from time to time with the answers!" (p. 26)

Sergeant Cotton wondered if they'd be stopping halfway for a cup of tea, and, if not, if it would be safe to say he needed petrol.
"Let's have a cup of tea," said the inspector. He owed his rapid promotion in the force in part to a remarkable intuition. He seemed sometimes to read people's thoughts. Besides this he was thirsty. (p. 27)

Dr. Blow sat in his study awaiting his visitors. Professor Manciple sat opposite, called in as always to act as a witness, with a watching brief on Blow's behalf to preserve him from being framed. Dr. Blow had a terror of being framed which was perhaps in inverse relation to his chances of ever suffering that embarrassment. (p. 27)
Evidence turns up suggesting mysterious jiggery-pokery with a tatooist taking out scars and putting them in again. When I appear, to ask questions, tatooist bolts, taking the evidence with him. (Insp. Harte, p. 36)

IH: Makes you think a bit.
AC: Well you go off and think, Inspector, and get Cotton to help you, if you find thinking is in his line. (Inspector Harte, Assistant Commissioner; p. 37)

Dr. Blow was just the man to feel at home in Lord Orford's [Hotel]. He liked being served with a pot of tea by a waitress almost as old as himelf and as he looked around the drawing room the years fell away and he began to feel almost skittish. (p. 38)

Don't dither. That's what kept you a bachelor. (Simonetta Blunt to Dr. Blow; p. 39)

...no investigation can be conducted at all if people shy away from the unpleasant possibilities and hide their heads from what's under their noses. (Professor Manciple, p. 40)

My immediate orders are to deal with the body I have, rather than to go seeking another. (Inspector Harte, p. 41)

"My Paper for the Sorbonne, you know. And yet--" [Manciple]
"Read them one on Charles the First and change the names," Dr. Blow suggested. In literary matters he had a lively conscience, but in numistmatics, he had none. (p. 43)

Oddly enough, Professor Manciple was feeling pretty spry, despite the rain. There was no doubt about it, one was apt to get into a rut, and an occasional jaunt did one no harm; no harm at all. (p. 47)

We aren't looking for a lost will, but my brother. The library is the last place I'd look. Simon was never much of a reader. (Simonetta Blunt, p. 55)

Inspector Harte laughed bitterly. "Fat lot of use us searching the castle now," he said. "They'll have gone, never fear. Laughing their heads off, like as not. Making a fool of  me!"
"They won't know it was you sir," Cotton said. "It might be Inspector Neale, or Lumsden, or anybody." (p.70)

...after all he's over eighty, you know. High time he was dead. (Simonetta Blunt, p. 74)

No, no, no, Gideon; mark me, Simon was a smuggler, probably the head of a great international organisation with branches everywhere. These heads of finance never retire, you know, any more than we do, my dear fellow. I could never give up annotating English poets, and you could never give up rambling on about your old coinage, could you, now? It's in the blood, Manciple: in the blood! (Dr. Blow, p.95)

People engaged in criminal activities don't discuss their  affairs with casual strangers. (Manciple, p. 105)

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I'm not quite sure this is my fare but am quite please you enjoyed it so much.