Sometimes I think it is possible to become jaded from reading too much of the same type of book. I signed up to this GAD blogging lark on my own initiative, and it’s the genre I prefer to read, but the need to get in at least one, and ideally two, a week to meet my own self-imposed deadlines can lead at times to a little disaffection creeping in. Thankfully, via the exemplary work of Fender Tucker’s Ramble House imprint, I have discovered the books of Norman Berrow, and so if my will be wandering I have the option of returning to the lightness and joy of his entertaining milieu. He’s not a plotter par excellence, but I find these books fun in a way that obviates my usual requirements in this direction. Prose before pose, dudes.
One Thrilling Night (1937) is the second and final novel to feature Detective Inspector Richard Courtenay, another example of Berrow’s ability to conjure effortlessly sympathetic and enjoyable policemen with the barest turn of a pen, and here he’s given another one night, one location stumper: a fashionable London set, a party game played in darkness, a crime, another crime, and then another… The synopsis promises an impossibility that does not occur — this is one of those “who was where when?” puzzles, and by no means impossible — but the structure brings to my mind, quite genuinely, Murder on the Orient Express (1934) by Agatha Christie.
Approximately the first third is given over to the introduction of the characters and the crime itself. It’s worth remarking how in the first eight pages Berrow drops no fewer than 12 characters on you in a manner that keeps them distinct from their initial appearance, but then he’s helped by writing like this:
Your hostess, Mrs. Mostyn-Martyn. Note the “y”s. They make all the difference between Mayfair and, say, Kensington. They place her at once. Mrs. Mostyn-Martyn is still a young woman. She is twenty-nine — she has been twenty-nine for the past four years.
These people are, possibly, of the Smart Set; but I shouldn’t call them Bright Young Things. The B.Y.T. are a group of crazy children who should be up-ended and soundly spanked by their long-suffering but apparently feeble-minded parents.