#882: Don’t Jump, Mr. Boland! (1954) by Norman Berrow

Don't Jump Mr Boland

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I’m in a confusing place with my reading of Norman Berrow.  I was sure that the break he took during WW2 would result in his post-1945 work being far superior — and it largely is — but the likes of Words Have Wings (1946), The Singing Room (1948), and The Eleventh Plague (1953) proved too tedious to finish. And now Don’t Jump, Mr. Boland! (1954) is similarly bland and thin, and I have anywhere between three and seven books of his left to read. We expect authors with long careers to fade away towards the end, but Berrow’s inconsistency is bizarre in how unguessable his quality is. At even his second best he’s lithe and fun, so today let’s examine this failure.

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#758: Don’t Go Out After Dark (1950) by Norman Berrow

Don't Go Out After Dark

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I posited before that Norman Berrow’s career was neatly bisected by the Second World War — those novels he wrote before it being light, sometimes a little tedious, and generally easily dismissed, and those coming after possessed of better plotting, better characterisation, better everything.  Then I encountered two post-war Berrow books in a row — Words Have Wings (1946) and The Singing Room (1948), both featuring the characters Michael and Fleur Revel — which left me disinterested and to date remain unfinished.  Does Don’t Go Out After Dark (1950), the last of the usually excellent Lancelot Carolus Smith novels I have to read, correct this?  Thankfully, yes.

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#679: The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) by Norman Berrow

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As a wrangler of mysteries, Norman Berrow has many equals and several betters, but as an incorporator of impossibilities he’s in the front rank.  Ever since first reading him with The Bishop’s Sword (1948) I’ve been struck by how neatly he folds his apparently undoable criminous schemes into the plots of his later novels — we’ll get to Early and Late Berrow in due course — and The Three Tiers of Fantasy (1947) is another great example of this.  Yes, two of the apparent mysteries herein are pretty solvable at first sight, but the reason for those mysteries and the use of the impossibility to achieve those ends is as brilliant as ever.

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#608: Ghost House (1940) by Norman Berrow

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Norman Berrow seems to flourish under the eye of the eldritch.  Impossible hoof-marks in the snow mystery The Footprints of Satan (1950) is widely seen — correctly, in my opinion and experience to date — as his strongest work, and Ghost House (1940) is another atmosphere-drenched invocation of supernatural terror.  Evidently Berrow himself was either extremely taken with the book or extremely disappointed in it, since he rewrote some of the plot, changed the names of the characters, and reissued the book in 1979.  I’ll get to v2.0 last of all, since I’m now reading Berrow chronologically, but for now let’s look at the original.

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#566: The Terror in the Fog (1938) by Norman Berrow

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Bill Hamilton, having previously chased hashish smugglers and a werewolf (separately) around Spain, now finds himself in his homestead of Gibraltar contending with a “London particular” fog, three murdered men hanging from the rafters of an abandoned storehouse, and a mysteriously faceless nun intent on causing all manner of havoc.  Yes, The Terror in the Fog (1938) is quite unmistakably a Norman Berrow novel — this mixture of superstition and cold, hard murder is Berrow’s bailiwick, and here are glimpses of the very fine novels he would go on to produce — and from early on it feels by far the most confident of his career to this point.

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#490: It Howls at Night (1937) by Norman Berrow

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The detective novel often requests that you, the reader, swallow some fairly difficult concepts in order to fully engage with it — that someone can organically devise the methods of murder and misdirection depicted within, for instance, or that the mechanical solutions sometimes put froward do actually work in the manner described.  However, the delightfully creative Norman Berrow, in his werewolf-on-the-prowl novel It Howls at Night (1937), demands of you the greatest degree of forbearance I’ve yet encountered, a hurdle some may struggle to overcome, in requiring you to believe that a man would actually go by the name of ‘Pongo Slazenger’.

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