Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Eel Pie Murders

Probably no man in the C.I.D. ever had a more unimpressive Watson than Inspector Bull had in the little gray Welshman who had been waiting at Strand Corner House long past the hour Bull had appointed for lunch. In fact  it might be said that as a Watson Mr. Pinkerton was positively insignificant, except of course that he had frequently helped out, which Watons, properly speaking, seldom or never do. 

The Eel Pie Murders (1933) by David Frome (Zenith Brown)

First off--let me just say that I don't know what book that blurb on the cover is supposed to be for, but it's definitely NOT The Eel Pie Murders. There is no chic spa. No "exploding" scandals. And Mr. Pinkerton doesn't "confront" anybody. Mr. Pinkerton is, quite frankly, as insignificant to the story as the quote above implies. He does, randomly, follow one of the suspects and that helps Inspector Bull (who is the true hero of the piece) sort out who did what to whom. But honestly, if Mr. Pinkerton weren't around, I'm quite sure that the good inspector would still get his man (or woman). I'm still trying to figure out why the books are billed as "Mr. Pinkerton Mysteries."

The back of the book is a little better:

[Inspector Bull and Mr. Pinkerton] find the body when the tide goes out. It is the best-dressed corpse Eel Pie Island has ever seen, and even Mr. Pinkerton has to admit the dead girl is beautiful. She is also the  the victim of an extraordinarily clever killer

Good so far...but then the blurb-writer takes another flight of fancy:

Before long, the shy sleuth wanders too deeply into the scandal-laden maze of Eel Pie Island. First a young woman runs for her life {Huh?}; then Mr. Pinkerton himself becomes the target of the very persistent, very brutal murderer. {Double Huh? Mr. Pinkerton is about as far from being in danger as one can get....}

You'd think that Mr. Pinkerton is the intrepid man of action taking on all perils instead of the of the shy, gray policeman wannabe that he is.

So...what is the story really about? Glad you asked. Mrs. Sheila Campbell's red & white silk pajama*-clad body is found early one morning on the shore of Eel Pie Island. She was stunned by a blow on the back of the head and then drowned. Once Inspector Bull (and his shadow, Mr. Pinkerton) get down to cases, they find that various people might have wanted her out of the way. There's her ex-husband whose finances have taken a sudden down-turn and could stand to be relieved of the £500 payments he's been forced to make to her. There's the current boyfriend who has tired of her andwhose wife knows about the affair. There's the owner of the gambling den that she'd managed to do out of quite a sum of cash when she discovered how to use his own rigged game against him. There's her own sister whose arguments weren't quite as private as she thought...At first, it looks all neat and tidy--the boyfriend was on the spot and has an adequate motive. But Inspector Bull isn't convinced of his guilt, especially after another murder and an attempted third, and decides to set a clever trap. No one is more surprised then he when the trap is sprung and he sees whom it has caught.

Despite my comments about Mr. Pinkerton above, this really was an enjoyable book. I happen to think it would have been even better without Mr. Pinkerton--but that's neither here nor there. I don't have anything against the shy little man and he's not a detriment to the book, but I also don't see that he's essential to the story. Even though there is just a small handful of suspects, Frome manages to keep the reader guessing and Inspector Bull is a very satisfactory protagonist. He's a smart copper with a bit of intuitive flair--but not too many leaps of logic. He's very indulgent of his Watson and doesn't mind Pinkerton tagging along on investigations. Most of the clues are fairly displayed and sharp readers have every chance to identify the culprit. ★★

*think 1930s/40s Hollywood lounge pajamas in the movies

Deaths = 3 (two drowned; one shot)


Laurie said...

I just finished Two From Scotland Yard, and Eel Pie will be next. I really enjoy the Pinkerton books, but you are correct when you say he plays such a small role that he’s pretty insignificant. My edition is the 1959 Popular Library one, and much like your Eel Pie, the blurb has nothing to do with the actual story. More like editors trying to titillate you into reading it.

Rick Mills said...

Nice to see David Frome (Leslie Ford/Zenith Brown) under the reading lamp again! I have three under my belt - Scotland Yard Can Wait! (a.p.a. Death Holds the Key). This title WAS to be release #31 of the Mystery League in 1933, but sadly, the League folded just prior its publication. See my blog post for details. I have also read the Leslie Ford titles "Murder in the OPM" and "Siren in the Night", both were published as part of the Collier Front Page Mystery uniform binding set. You may also enjoy this article "Leslie Ford's Fall from Grace".

Rick Mills said...

Yikes, yet another pseudonym: Brenda Conrad!

Bev Hankins said...

Rick: So far all of what I've read by her was under the Leslie Ford name. This is the first under Frome.