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Mystery Monday Review – The Painswick Line

The Painswick Line by Henry Cecil

Review by Matt B. (buffalosavage)


A bookmaker employs Lucy Meeson-Smith as a clerk taking bets in the London of the early Fifties. She not only sets up a false account to place bets, which is obviously against the rules, but she also always backs winners. The winning too often and too much arouses the suspicions of her employers who sue her for fraud.

At her trial her defense brings out that her papa, a vicar in a remote country town, has made a life’s study of breeding and form and has become a brilliant tipster though he eschews betting himself as not becoming for a parson. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Painswick, has a swindler and con-man for son who is deeply in debt. The judge feels forced to pump the vicar for tips that he can win on and get his son out of dutch with his creditors and possibly the authorities.

Cecil doesn’t spend time on the etiology of criminal behavior, though he does weave together the theme of the influence of breeding on behavior. It seems both good and bad, whether “good in the stretch” or “liable to defraud” is apt to skip generations, that is, grandchildren and grandparents sharing more traits than kids and parents.

Touching on the British court system, the track and sporting life, and the milieu of people who spend a third of their adult life in prison, this episodic novel is intelligent, witty, and high-spirited. Cecil provides interesting information on frauds such as check kiting and bogus claims for commissions. He also tweaks lawyerdom with an exchange of acrimonious letters, which is a hoot. Readers of According to the Evidence (1954) will be pleased to find probably the first appearance of recurring comic character, Col. Brain, dimwit and twit.

This was Cecil’s second book, written in 1951. One would never know it was written shortly after his wife’s death, taken up to take his mind off grieving. Cecil was a barrister and judge so this legal fiction bears the stamp of authenticity.




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