Murder by the Book
Donald Langham now writes about crimes rather than solving them. A prolific mystery novelist in 1955 London, he’s happy with his sedate life, preferring to live vicariously through the exploits of his fictional detective, private eye Sam Brooke. But when his longtime agent Charles Elder approaches him about a “delicate matter” – Charles is being blackmailed with scandalous photos of himself and a male lover – Langham springs into action. With the help of contacts from his former PI days and Charles’ attractive assistant, the razor-sharp Maria Dupré, Langham tries to find the culprit before the incriminating pictures become public. However, it soon becomes apparent this is no ordinary case of extortion.
This is a fun old-fashioned mystery set amid London’s bustling literary community. There are occasional references to the war, and the neighborhoods and environs of the city are vividly described, but otherwise the historical backdrop isn’t prominent. As the tension ratchets ever higher, Langham and Maria begin falling in love, and their sweet, un-angsty romance is a pleasure to follow. A good-hearted, portly man who appreciates the finer things in life, Charles is quite an entertaining character, although some phrases he uses are overdone. He calls Langham “my dear boy” over thirty times in all!
The best part involves just sitting back and watching all the literary types – agents, editors, successful authors, disgruntled hacks, and a grande dame novelist in the Agatha Christie mold – interact within the sometimes congenial, sometimes cutthroat publishing scene. Langham is also a freelance critic of some note, and after an old friend offers to meet him for a pint, Langham tells him, “You’ve saved me from a dull evening of reading for review.” This reviewer, fortunately, had no such worries with this book.