Forgotten but Fantastic Author, Delano Ames and Death of a Fellow Traveller (1950)

‘Who killed Blythe is not really very important… the important thing is… other people suspecting the wrong murderer…’

Delano Ames’ Jane and Dagobert Brown series has always been a favourite of mine and after quite a saga I have finally managed to get a copy of the fourth in the series: Death of a Fellow Traveller (1950). Jane and Dagobert are not your usual bright young things detecting couple and have much more engaging and developed personalities in comparison to say Richard and Francis Lockridge’s detecting couple Mr and Mrs North. I would recommend starting with the first book in this series; She Shall Have Murder (1948), as it helps to set up the two amateur sleuths, who are not married yet and explains Jane’s writing career which begins after a murder occurs in her then workplace. Dagobert is also established as a wonderfully maverick, yet believable character, who eschews regular work and prefers random research or article writing jobs on topics as abstract as 15th or 16th century writers or musicians or the Mayan Civilisation. Another advantage with starting with the first book is that it reasonably cheap and quite easy to get a hold of, which is the same for the second and third novels in the series, Murder Begins At Home (1949) and Corpse Diplomatique (1950).

Death of a Fellow Traveller

But if you are lucky enough to find a copy of the 4th book the story does open in a way which can familiarise the new reader to an extent, beginning with Jane describing in a humorous manner the difficulties of starting a novel:

‘There is always a great deal of fuss in the family before I start a book. The situation briefly is this:

a) I am not a novelist – which may seem a discouraging admission to make at the offset.

 

b) I believe a woman’s place is in the home – at least until six o’clock in the evening

 

c) I can never think of anything to write about’

The novel then continues to introduce Dagobert, who actually dismisses her second reason and as to the last reason his suggestion is:

‘What we want… is somebody to get killed. We could easily spare some of your friends.’

Since none of their friends are going to oblige, Dagobert instead follows a wild flight of fancy concerning their next door neighbours the Ramsbottoms, conjuring up scenarios where they either murder each other or are really spies, even roping in a friend of theirs, who happens to be visiting them at the time. As a man who rushes from hobby to hobby, interest to interest, very much like Toad in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind the Willows (1908); (Janes designates them as separate time periods), Dagobert begins a new passion in espionage reading up on Uranium 235 and Cryptography. After a couple of weeks of trying to find spies in Soho, Dagobert’s interest in spies seems to have waned and he suggests he and Jane go on holiday, even letting Jane stick the pin in the map. Yet used to his ways Jane knows he’s still up to something apart from trying to get her to write the spy thriller he outlined earlier. Is it only coincidence that the place Jane picked is near to a town where a spy was arrested a week earlier?

The American Version of the Book

The American Version of the Book

To Cornwall they go, Gwinks in fact, (doesn’t actually exist but a place called Gweeks does) and it is on the train down that they bump into the visitor of the Ramsbottom’s, Captain Blythe and his two Great Danes, which has a catalytic effect on Dagobert’s fertile imagination, especially when Captain Blythe books into the same inn as them. Yet reality seems to be mirroring imagination when the very next morning, Captain Blythe is found dead in the sea, having fallen from the cliff above the previous night. Did he fall or was he pushed? Is it an accident, suicide or murder? An unsigned suicide letter brought out at the inquest suggests the second option, but Dagobert and increasingly Jane (who is now keen to set pen to paper) is convinced it’s the latter:

‘But my more immediate reaction was that his confession had deprived me of a perfectly good murder story. This undoubtedly selfish reaction will be understood only by fellow writers.’

Having decided its murder the next big question for Jane and Dagobert is whether it is a crime fuelled by espionage intrigue or is much more domestic matter. For example, his sister’s (who lives in the area) handkerchief is discovered at the scene of crime, yet a scrap of paper found in his room at the inn has the numbers 235. Is it referring to a particular type of Uranium? The number of suspects also widens when on the one hand there is an actress and director in the area shooting a spy film, who knew Captain Blythe in Venice, yet seem to know more than they are letting on about their past dealings with him. Whilst on the other hand, as the novel progresses the more unpleasant qualities of Captain Blythe are uncovered, revealing further people with financial and romantically motivated grievances against him. Information comes from a wide variety of sources and it is enjoyable to see despite the bizarre machinations of Dagobert, Jane frequently discovering important information through conversing and confronting several of the female characters involved. With several punch ups, leaving Jane in the nettles patch (ouch), and entertaining moments of bathos with envisaged confrontations not materialising, Jane and Dagobert’s investigations are engaging and light heartedly written. However when the moment finally comes, when the killer is finally discovered, will Dagobert follow the dictates of legal justice and expose the criminal? Only another death will tell, but who be the next victim? This is a case which leaves both light hearted and dark legacies, with Dagobert and Jane returning home with more than they bargained for.

I really enjoyed this book, firstly because the killer is well chosen, yet in true crime fiction fashion is concealed in plain sight and was a surprise to me, but unlike some novels, this criminal was not pulled out of a hat. The reason the killer is so well hidden is partially because the characters, even minor ones are expertly drawn and filled out. In particular I liked how the marriage of Lucy and Marcus (Blythe’s sister and brother in law) is depicted as it is well developed with realistic complexities. With many of the relationships in this novel, an underlying theme is that affection may be deeply rooted, but rarely shown and this is most strongly brought out in the ending of the novel.

Dustjacket from a later reprint. Rather poor one in my opinion, as it doesn't particularly relate to the plot and rather does the novel an injustice.

Dustjacket from a later reprint. Rather poor one in my opinion, as it doesn’t particularly relate to the plot and rather does the novel an injustice.

However, what makes this such a strong book and series is the dynamic between Jane and Dagobert, which goes beyond the usual detecting couple pattern, which is largely down to Dagobert’s unpredictability:

‘I have been married to Dagobert for nearly two years, and I have never had a dull moment. I could do with a dull moment.’

Frequently within their investigation, Dagobert refrains from telling Jane what he is going to do and is rather a law unto himself and Jane’s reactions to this is entertaining to read, especially when she has to deal with the consequences. Occasionally Jane is a little jealous in the novel when Dagobert takes out the much younger actress to tea, but since the reader knows that as impossible as Dagobert can be, Jane is the only woman for him, these moments are invariably comic. Furthermore, as well as doing her own private investigations, Jane does get her own back a little, not only by being the narrator of the story and therefore having control of the narrative, but by poking fun at him in her role of trying to bring Dagobert down to earth during his more wilder moments of fancy:

‘I might try that trick of ‘reconstructing the crime’.’

‘I’ll play the part of the person who shoves you off the cliff…’

Jane and Dagobert may be no Sherlocks, relying more on being very good at bluffing information out of people, but they are an immensely enjoyable detective duo and are well worth trying. Alas I don’t know if I will be able to get a hold of the next one in the series: The Body On Page One (1951), as the cheapest copy is over £150, so I shall be alternately keeping my eyes peeled and praying someone reprints Delano Ames’ work.

Rating: 4/5

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About armchairreviewer

Qualified English teacher, with a passion for literature and crime fiction. On a random note I also own pygmy goats and chickens with afros (it doesn't get any cooler than that).
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16 Responses to Forgotten but Fantastic Author, Delano Ames and Death of a Fellow Traveller (1950)

  1. Keishon says:

    Your review makes this book and this author sound so good. I will be praying along with you for a publisher to give us readers another shot at this author’s work. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, it’s always nice to know people are enjoying what you’re writing and yeah its a shame Delano Ames books are not so widely available. The Rue Morgue Press reprinted his first three and there are quite a number of cheap earlier reprints for them also knocking about, but after that it seems you have to hunt high and low globally to track the later books down. I just really enjoy them as I think Jane and Dagobert bring something new to the married detecting couple motif and are not just another Tommy and Tuppence (as lovely they are).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. JJ says:

    My edition of She Shall Have Murder (which I’m yet to read) was published by Manor Minor Press in 2014, and they also have Corpse Diplomatique on their roster…whether this impplies that more Ames books will follow I don’t know, but it at least gives some hope of finding these later other titles you’re after. Rue Morgue have done a great job in bringing so much stuff back, but haven’t produced anything “new” for a lttle while and so I’m wondering if they’re done and we have to start looking elsewhere for their authors (thinking specifically of Kelley Roos here)…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hadn’t heard of the Manor Minor Press before but I’m glad some new reprints of Delano Ames are coming out, I may not have to rob a bank to complete my collection after all! Yeah Kelley Roos’ detecting couple are always good. I’ve read Made up to kill and The Frightened Stiff by her. Personally I think I prefer Jane and Dagobert a little bit more but I shall interested to hear what you make of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • JJ says:

        Well, any crime-solving couple favourably compared to the Troys is going to get my attention, so now I’m doubly curious to get to Ames…

        Like

      • Well I would definitely recommend them. Think the weakest novel out of the first four is the third one Corpse Diplomatique, but the others are really good.

        Like

  3. Bev Hankins says:

    These are very good husband and wife mysteries–I’ve read She Shall Have Murder,a Corpse Diplomatique, and For Old Crime’s Sake and enjoyed them all. I’ve had Murder Begins at Home and this one (in the American version shown above) sitting on the TBR pile for a bit and just picked up Murder, Maestro, Please today at a community book fair. Looking forward to a chance to get these three read.

    Liked by 1 person

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  8. Wonderful review. I love Delano Ames and I feel you did complete justice to this particular book, one of my favorites as well. I wrote a review of it on my blog but yours is the much better one since you really got to the core of Jane and Dagobert’s delightful relationship. That relationship is the main reason I so enjoy these books.

    Liked by 1 person

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