Sunday, April 23, 2017

Death With Blue Ribbon: Review

Death with Blue Ribbon (1969) by Leo Bruce
Carolus Deene #19

Carolus Deene, our ex-Commando turned senior history master and sometime amateur detective, is preparing for the break before the Michaelmas term when Mr. Rolland of the Haute Cuisine Restaurant (and hotel) comes to him for help. Mr. Rolland has been visited by two very alarming customers who have demanded protection money to keep his business operating in a healthy manner. If he doesn't pay up, they have promised him a few "unpleasant incidents" which, when publicized, will leave a bad taste in customers' mouths and send interest in his menu to zero. He's already refused once and they arranged a "frightener"--a gentleman ordered dinner and immediately got sick, swearing he would sue Rolland for serving bad food. They promise more incidents--and more intense ones if the famous restaurateur continues to hold out. It is especially imperative to get to the bottom of things quickly because Rolland is expecting a visit from Imogen Marvell, a very important food critic whose opinions can make or break a restaurant. Absolutely nothing must go wrong while she's visiting!

Deene normally doesn't get interested by anything less than murder, but he finds blackmail of any sort to be so vile that he agrees to stay at the hotel, eat at the restaurant, and see what he can do. But he makes no promises. He has barely begun to investigate when Madame Marvell arrives. She too becomes sick after eating the house specialty, Scampi à la Rolland. They manage to keep the name of the hotel out of the papers, giving Deene more time to hunt for evidence. But, again, he makes little headway before Marvell is dead--of an accidentally miscalculated drug dose (according to the inquest). However, Deene suspects murder. It's difficult for him to tell if it's a case of a "frightener" gone wrong or if there are deeper motives. After all, Marvell was quite a rich woman and there are several who expected to benefit from her death--her harassed assistant who had been promised a place in her will as well as the critic's sister, from whom Marvell learned all she knew about cooking...and, of course, her estranged husband--the actual big winner in the Marvell legacy sweepstakes. And all of these folks were right on the spot when the deed was done. Clues and evidence follow and soon Deene is able to hand both the protection gang and the murderers over to the police on a silver platter.

This particular Deene outing was not nearly as engaging as those previously read. Perhaps it is because the murder doesn't occur until late in the book. As mentioned above, murder is what really interests Deene and even though he's quite against blackmail and is willing to wade in and tackle it, the reader never feels that he is as dedicated and interested as he would have been if the investigation had begun with a murder. Also, in past reviews I've mentioned that Bruce's books are filled with "wonderfully eccentric characters." This time round, the characters seem a bit more stock and stereotypical--from the prima donna critic to her harassed, overworked assistant to the protection gang members. No one really stands out. The setting is still fairly good and Deene is a well-established character with a certain charm. These elements keep the book from being too much to wade through. ★★ and 3/4...not quite good enough to make three.

This fulfills the "Food" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

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