Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our Jubilee Is Death: Review

After all, the old kind of detection's on the way out. We've gone forward from Baker Street. I don't see how you expect to get away with a mysterious murder, examination of suspects, digging up the clues, keeping everyone in the dark, then Bang, the big revelation. It was all right for the first fifty years or so, but it's completely outmoded now. (Priggley; p.70)

Carolus Deene, a history master at a boys school with independent means, tends to spend the school holidays sorting out murders. He spends his time away from the school at British watering holes, small villages, and even on ocean liners helping to track down killers that seem likely to elude the police's grasp.  In Our Jubiliee Is Death (1959), his cousin Fay sends him an urgent letter describing how she came upon the corpse of the successfully romantic suspense author Lilliane Bomberger. Or rather, Lilliane's head, since the rest of her appears to be buried in the sandy beach. 

It looked from the distance like a rock with a bit of sea-weed on it....When I got there I saw it was Mrs. Bomberger. I mean, her head. Or rather, as I found out later, she was all there, but only her head was stuck out of the sand.

Fay is worried about how the dead woman's family is reacting and asks Carolus to come down and set things right. She assures him that the family will welcome his help and she's quite sure that he will be able to spot the murderer immediately and life will return to normal. Carolus, with his interest in crime, had naturally read the newspaper articles about the crime, but it hadn't interested him at all. It didn't seem to have any features of particular interest. But when his cousin writes and then his headmaster and housekeeper, who are both ostensibly opposed to his investigations, bring up the case (hoping to keep him out of it), he decides to take it up after all if only to tweak their noses.

Before heading to Blessington-on-Sea, site of the murder, Carolus stops in to see Bomburger's publisher to get what background he can on the author. He discovers that she was a demanding, domineering woman who made everyone's life miserable--from her relatives to her household help to her publishers. She may have been the publishing house's best seller and a source of considerable income, but she was a trial to work with.

But don't think we've not earned it. We've had her for twenty-three years, and it's been like a prison sentence. She was the most insufferable human being of this century. Or any other, I sometimes think.

When Carolus arrives at the seaside town, however, he finds that no one in the house is willing to tell the truth. He meets with what he calls a "conspiracy" and despite warning them that at least one more death will follow if they don't give him the facts (and subsequently being proved right), they stubbornly stick to their concocted stories. He believes that despite their conspiracy of silence he has discovered who did it and why, but he has no proof and no way of obtaining it. Carolus, who didn't want to investigate this case in the first place, is ready to throw in the towel when his headmaster arrives on the scene insisting that Deene clear things up once and for all.

But, Deene, there is a sharp distinction between keeping yourself clear of a thing of this kind and leaving it in midstream.

Our hero is still insisting on leaving the field to the police when a final corpse is discovered and he is given no choice but to gather the interested parties and tell him what he believes to have happened. And, of course, he is right.

This is, in some ways, one of the less satisfying books in the Carolus Deene series because of his lack of enthusiasm for his investigation.  Usually he is eager to dive in and get to the bottom of things, but this time he is very reluctant to get involved and doesn't particularly enjoy the investigation once he does. That isn't to say that this isn't an enjoyable mystery. It is--there is a great deal of humor and an interesting, if somewhat improbable plot (who in their right mind would dig a vertical hole to stuff a corpse in?). The opening letter from Deene's cousin, the descriptions of the dead woman, and the interactions between Carolus and his headmaster, housekeeper, and that insufferable young man from his history class, Priggley alone make it worth the reading. ★★ and a quarter.

This counts for "Body of Water" on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

1 comment:

fredamans said...

I don't know if this one is for me. If it disappointed you, it'll probably do the same to me.