You can tell it’s been a tough couple of weeks, because I’ve reverted to my reading Happy Place — Carter Dickson, Max Afford, and now Norman Berrow (there was a traumatic Ngaio Marsh experience in there, too, but the less said about that the better). My entirely non-chronological sampling of this delightful Kiwi — probably the most purely joyous GAD author I read — continues apace, since this is the preceding title to Murder in the Melody (1940), the last Berrow I read…no, I have no idea why I’m doing it like this. I’ll make sure his debut The Smokers of Hashish (1934) is the next Berrow I pick up. Just bear with me, eh? It’s been a tough couple of weeks.
This, then, is the first of four novels to feature Michael and Fleur Revel, who head out on a road trip, call into a small local hotel for the night, and find themselves confronting a dead body and the vanishing of another guest. It is full of the sort of casual asides Berrow does so well — a waitress whose apron is “starched practically bullet proof”, a grandfather clock ringing the change of hour after every other clock in the vicinity “holding his breath and hoping that no-one had heard, or, if he had been heard, that no-one had noticed how late he’d been” — before we’re presented with what appears to be the central problem of the piece: a dead man in a bathtub, with malice undecided.
“He was not drowned, he was not asphyxiated, he was not doped. Neither was he slugged, nor shot, nor stabbed, nor strangled, nor any other thing that is murderous. He just died. And if the cause of death was heart-failure, there was no traceable reason for the failure.”