Thursday, November 1, 2018

What Beckoning Ghost: Review

...Mr. Tuke had gratuitously meddled (to quote the Director again) in conundrums which came his way out of office hours. A taste for meddling was thus perhaps whetted. He himself liked to call it a flair. ~What Beckoning Ghost (1947) by Douglas G. Browne

In March of 1940, a British submarine commanded by Lieutenant Demarest was lost in the North Atlantic. There were no survivors. But months later, Demarest's mother embraces spiritualism and, in an effort to make contact with her heroic son, she begs the medium to prove visitations real. She is rewarded with a chance to talk with her son one night on the edges of Hyde Park. The ghostly seaman is seen by Wally Whichcord, a tramp who often sleeps in the wooded area of the park. 

Now, seven years later, Lady Demarest is dead, but Whichcord has reportedly seen the lieutenant's ghost again in the same place. Two weeks after this sighting, the tramp is found drowned in the shallow waters of the Serpentine. The death is a puzzle--it doesn't look like accident because there's no evidence that he slipped and knocked himself out. And it doesn't look like suicide--he'd bragged to his sister that he expected to come into a bit money to get him back on his feet. So, that leaves only murder. But who would want to murder an old tramp?

That's where Harvey Tuke, the rudest man in the Department of Public Prosecutions" and the man who looks like a modern Mephistopheles, comes in. His wife has dragged him to a dinner paryt given by Corinne Reaveley (ex-fiancee of Demarest and currently married to Clifford Reavely, civil engineer). Tuke fully expects to be bored out of his mind and plied with bad sherry. He's pleasantly surprised to find the bottles on offer to be excellent and a whiff of mystery in the air. Tensions are already high around the dinner table, but one of the guests brings up the death of Whichcord Corinne takes far more exception to the topic than one would expect. This is followed later by his hostess slamming her way out of the house. When Corinne is found drowned as well, Tuke can't resist getting involved even though the case hasn't been referred to his department yet. He soon finds himself caught up in a bizarre case revolving around the tangled family affairs that have led to intrigue and murder--and which leads him on a deadly chase that ends in the gloomy underground sewers of London.

Harvey Tuke, though known as the rudest man in his department, is actually a delightful character. He has quite a way of getting information out of people who don't want to give it--either through being "unaccountably" charming or by being rude and surprising them into saying things they don't intend. Either way, he's fascinating to watch in action. He also has an interesting relationship with his boss, Sir Bruton Kames. Kames, ostensibly deplores Tuke's penchant for meddling, but it is apparent that he secretly approves...especially if it gives him a chance to get in on the action as well. It's worth the price of admission just for the visual of the portly Kames squeezing himself down into the underground tunnels of the London sewer system. 

The solution of the mystery is fairly straightforward, but Browne's style and the vivid portrayal of the London of the time period carries the reader over any possible disappointment resulting from not being properly mystified. A very entertaining, comfortable vintage mystery. ★★

[Finished 10/16/18]

1 comment:

J.G. said...

This sounds like a very fun read! Sometimes the "extras" make all the difference in keeping things enjoyable.