This is my second return to Durbridge’s Paul Temple tales, though unfortunately my last read, Paul Temple and the Front Page Men (1939), was a bit disappointing. However, today’s book, Send for Paul Temple (1938) is Temple’s debut appearance and the newspapers are clamouring for him, a mystery novelist to help Scotland Yard solve a recent spate of diamond robberies which have been taking place in the Midlands. This is a move Scotland Yard are reluctant to take, that is until one of their own, Superintendent Harvey, is murdered shortly after meeting up with Temple and it soon becomes more and more evident that the police are up against a substantial criminal enterprise, which is not above silencing its’ members if it looks like they will blab.
But even during this murder investigation, further robberies occur and the reader is able to view events both from the guilty and detecting parties. Events seem to be centring round a country inn, yet it soon becomes apparent as more people die and further coups are staged that there is a mole within Scotland Yard, keeping the criminals one step ahead. In the midst of this there is also Steve Trent, a young female reporter who soon teams up with Temple to seek justice for her brothers’ death and she is essential in providing background information to the case, so essential that her life is endangered many times. Nevertheless with the traitor within Scotland Yard still at large it seems that even when the criminals are finally cornered there could still be a way out for them…
I think I liked Temple more in this book than I did in Paul Temple and The Front Page Men, though I still find him a little too perfect and self-satisfied. Perhaps it is because he is a self-made Lord Peter Wimsey without the title of course. This can be found in the narrative itself such as when it is said that:
‘Temple himself was a modern embodiment of Sir Philip Sydney. Courtly in manners, a dominant character without ever giving the impression of dominating. He was equally at home in the double-breasted dinner-jacket he was now wearing, the perfect host entertaining his guests, or in coarse, loose tweeds striding along the country lanes.’
I really like Lord Peter Wimsey as a character yet the difference with him and Paul Temple is, that Wimsey more genuinely embodies his character traits, whereas with Temple there is a feeling of falseness and he likes to be centre stage too much.
One of the things which disappointed me in Paul Temple and the Front Page Men was that once more there was a wife in a detecting duo who does very little. Initially in this book I feared something similar especially when a female character is patronisingly laughed at because of their interest in the robberies. Thankfully though there are some active female characters, particularly the enigmatic elderly Miss Parchment (who was a joy to read) and Steve. Steve particularly interested me due to her becoming a serial character. It is suggested early on in the book that women need to use their looks to get on in their careers and I think female appearance is something noticed a lot in the story. However, there is a suggestion that Steve breaks away from the mould a little and is ‘distinguished… from other women reporters.’ For instance her eyes are said to have ‘shone clear and bright, with no hard sophistication to mar them. Yet they spoke of experience, of difficulties, even dangers encountered.’ It is also said that she ‘liked action’ and in this story at least she does get to be involved with some of the more dramatic events, though at times in the capacity of a heroine in distress. Furthermore, she does the even more unconventional thing of proposing marriage to Temple. It is therefore such a shame that having taken the initiative to propose to Temple that their marriage leads to her becoming a more passive and self-deprecating character in terms of her career and detective work. Although on the other hand I can see how a character like Temple is a man who wants an assistant not a partner on an equal footing.
Once again this is a fast paced and plot focused story, which has moments of satire such as when it looks at how newspapers handle or treat crime news items. This is definitely a thriller rather than a pure detective novel and being a first novel there are quite a number of tropes added to make the plot seem unusual or different, some of which work quite well, but others felt a little unnecessary. Criminals double crossing each other and having chief criminals come from the respectable echelons of society are two features which seem to occur frequently in these Temple adventures. Again for me there was the issue of the reader knowing more than the characters quite early on in the book about specific parts of the criminal plot and I think it is will be up to individual readers whether this works for them or not. Knowing this information means that the plot begins to be read for how Temple finds out the truth and capture the criminals. Mystification is perhaps not a talent Durbridge has in abundance and is generally saved for the “big” secret surrounding the criminal enterprise, in this case the mole in Scotland Yard.