Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Paper Thunderbolt: Review

The first half of The Paper Thunderbolt (aka Operation Pax, 1951) by Michael Innes follows a two-bit con man by the name of Albert Routh as he muffs his most recent confidence game and winds up in the clutches of a secret society bent on world domination through the pacification of the masses. When he flees the bank on his two-stroke motorcycle after losing his nerve, he heads to the countryside and lands in the little village of Milton Porcorum where he meets a mysterious man by the name of Squire. Squire recognizes Routh's type and immediately offers to put him on to "a good thing." Before Routh knows it, he is being held captive in a room at Milton Manor while Squire and his confederates decide what to do with him. But the lock on his room is a piddling little thing and offers no challenge to a man who was dismantling such locks when just a tot. He escapes from the room and manages to overhear Squire's superior insisting that he do away with Routh before he causes too much trouble. The con man finds the nerve that he lost at the bank and tries to bluff his way into the gang--when that goes awry, he manages to kill Squire's counterpart and make off with a bit of paper that the men seem to find mighty important. He hops on his motorbike and makes tracks for Oxford. If he can just find a safe place to stash the paper until he can lose his pursuers, he'll be set to make a fortune....


Cut scene to Oxford where Sir John Appleby has arrived to help his younger sister Jane (an undergraduate at the university) track down her missing fiancĂ©, Geoffrey Ourglass. Ourglass is a brilliant young scientist and he was last seen in a car headed towards Milton Porcorum home of Milton Manor as well as health clinic which serves as a front for the evil doers. Before Sir John and Jane can meet up, she spies Routh lurking in the Bodleian Library and he's obviously scared and trying to avoid another man hot on his heels. She notices him hiding a bit of paper, but is so caught up in the cat and mouse game playing before her eyes that she doesn't give it much thought. Later, she sees the injured Routh being loaded into an ambulance and realizes that his pursuers are whisking him away to....of all places Milton Porcorum. Jane is an impetuous young woman and hails a taxi to follow the ambulance and hopefully get a lead on Geoffrey.  Fortunately for her, the taxi driver doesn't mind being a party to a bit of intrigue and, in fact, turns out to be quite adept in such situations....

Meanwhile, Sir John makes inquiries around Oxford--talking to dons and tutors who knew Geoffrey and he begins to see ties to another matter which the Yard has been investigating. You see, Geoffrey isn't the first young man to go missing. Several men--rogues and down-and-outers--who would normally not be missed (save for the Yard's watchful eye) have disappeared over the last several months and inquiring minds have begun to wonder if the disappearances are connected. And does Geoffrey's disappearing act mean that the villainous group is getting more bold? Sir John has his own ideas about that. There will be a high-speed chase across the countryside, midnight adventures in the lower regions of the Bodleian Library, and a highly improbable rescue by a horde of youngsters on bikes who call themselves Tigers. Thrilling escapades and exciting episodes dominate this adventure making it more of a caper story than a traditional mystery. I did get fooled at the end--I thought for sure that X would prove to be the mastermind, but I was wrong. I should have stuck with my first thought.

On the whole this turned out to be a very interesting and exciting read. I had my doubts at first. Routh as a narrator didn't work that well for me. Not because he's a con man--but because his voice and his thoughts are very disjointed and stream-of consciousness-like. It was difficult at times to follow what he was saying/thinking and he seemed periodically to have different personalities going for him. Once he got to Oxford and the Applebys came on the scene, the book settled down and became a very nice chase thriller. ★★ and 3/4--I'm taking off that 1/4 for the disjointed opening chapters.

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With the Bodleian Library front and center on the cover (behind the man), this counts for the "Library/Book" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. It also counts for the "Weather in the Title" category on the Mystery Reporter Challenge. 
 

3 comments:

fredamans said...

It sounds like if you can push through the beginning, it's a solid thriller.

bloodymurder said...

Not the one that is going to convince me to get in to Inness I suspect - but really enjoyed the review Bev!

Bev Hankins said...

Sergio--this isn't Innes at his absolutely finest (although the second half was definitely worth wading through the first half), but still an enjoyable book. And thanks for the good words on my review.