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Mystery Monday – What Beckoning Ghost

 

What Beckoning Ghost by Douglas G. Browne

 

Review by Matt B. (BuffaloSavage)

 

The shadow of World War II looms over this 1947 mystery. Excited by séances run by a Madame Varché, the mother of a submariner lost in the North Atlantic claims to have met and talked with the ghost of her son in London’s Hyde Park. Wally the Bum also sees this apparition and, seven years later, after he sees it again, Wally is found drowned.

Harvey Tuke, “the rudest man in the Department Of Public Prosecutions,” becomes involved after he witnesses the erratic behavior of re-married wife of the submariner at a dinner party he was dragged to by his own wife.  The excitable wife is later found drowned. Aiding Tuke’s informal investigation are his superior Sir Bruton Kames, a bull in a china shop, and Wray, the sly snippy Assistant Commissioner (Crime) of Scotland Yard. The exchanges among the trio are acerbic but never unpleasantly callous.

As in his novel Too Many Cousins, Browne plots adroitly and delineates characters skillfully. The grandson of the Victorian illustrator Hablot K. Browne, better known as “Phiz,” Browne was trained as a painter before he turned to writing professionally. His descriptions are highly visual. This, on the sitting room of a respectable working class granny:

It was comfortable and scrupulously neat. What light there was filtered through the net curtain on to mahogany polished until it added a lustre of its own. Michaelmas daisies filled a vase on the table. Shelves of well-worn books, Goss china, photographs in plush or silver frames, a match-container resembling a pig and inscribed “Scratch Me”, a clock suspended in a model of the Eiffel Tower, an overmantel with an many pinnacles as St. Pancras station, oleograph and prints of “The Soul’s Awakening” and “Dignity and Impudence” – this handful from a host of ornaments recalled to Mr. Tuke the house in Albert Lane he has so recently left. … Parks and the late Victorian era seemed to be his portion just now.

 

The beauty of the Web, of course, is that we can go to Google Images and search for “Dignity and Impudence.” I urge you dog fanatics (I married one) to do so. Ditto for James Sant’s “The Soul’s Awakening,” a fine example of mainstream Victorian taste. Run “clock Eiffel Tower” too – and learn there’s more than one way to do everything.

Visual and historical details of London in the late 1940s make the story seem real. Often mentioned are the wrought-iron railings around Hyde Park that were removed and scrapped to provide metals for the war effort. Entire blocks of housing are bombed out, and set to be demolished but not cleared away, a common situation for 10 years in the city after the war. The climax narrates a thrilling subterranean chase in the storm drains under London.

Dover Publications reprinted this book and Too Many Cousins in the 1980s. Doing a search in PaperBackSwap for “Dover Pubns” and choosing the genre “Mystery, Thriller and Suspense” will probably shake loose wonderful mysteries such as Bodies in a Bookshop, Death Walks in Eastrepps, The Piccadilly Murder, and Death and the Pleasant Voices.

Happy reading.

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