The Custom House Murder (Blitz Detective 3)

Written by Mike Hollow
Review by Douglas Kemp

This is the third in the Blitz Detective series. It’s September 1940, and the body of a mid-twenties schoolteacher, Paul Ramsey, is discovered in an public air-raid shelter in London’s East End, just after the all-clear early on a Sunday morning. Detective Inspector John Jago is called in as the murder is on his patch, and so begins another case for him and his young sidekick, Detective Constable Peter Cradock. There are some puzzling elements to the case: while Ramsey was a pacifist, he was found with a pistol issued to officers in the Great War and was generally not liked. Jago uncovers a complicated mess of professional rivalry and jealousy and has to unravel the quagmire of the victim’s personal relations. There’s also an issue about financial abuse in the local authority in West Ham awarding planning contracts to local builders. When Jago uncovers a possible link between the two cases, the investigation really takes off. Jago is a likeable character, a bachelor, and with the trauma of his experience in The Great War still affecting him, his solitary life and passion for culture with his intelligent approach to policing lend him a definite Inspector Morse-like aspect.

As with the previous books in the series, the historical background is excellent, with accurate topography and contextual details of life in war-torn London demonstrating the painstaking research that Mike Hollow has undertaken. The US journalist Dorothy Appleton is still on the scene, but the elements in the story that deal with the relationship between her and Jago do not seem to add much to the narrative and are progressing little more than at a lazy snail’s-pace.