Thankfully the gap between my last Delano Ames read and this one was only about a month or so and in this next instalment Jane and Dagobert Brown are restless as ever and are once more travelling, this time in the Pyrenees on a tandem bicycle. Through a confusing invitation they are going to a music festival in Puig d’Aze, meeting an old school friend of Jane’s and some obscure cousin of Dagobert’s named Perdita. As with the few previous books I have reviewed, the book opens with Jane using the vehicle of crime fiction writing to provide the readers with a shocking development in their real life. This time Jane lulls us into a false sense of security about the beautiful scenery they are travelling through, only to puncture it with shots seemingly aimed at them. Of course the unusual events do no stop once they make it to Puig d’Aze, with love triangles rapidly forming and disbanding and getting horribly complicated; most of which are revolving around Squadron Leader John Corcoran. The reader is not surprised when Dagobert and Jane encounter a distraught Perdita one night, claiming she has shot Corcoran. Yet on entering the supposed scene of the crime there is no corpse and Corcoran’s car and the Brown’s tandem have gone missing. The next morning Corcoran is found dead in his car, which has crashed at the bottom of a gorge. Was this an accident or murder? Various other tourists and local inhabitants become entangled in the case, including a Jewish refugee and her prodigy younger sister, a very suspicious roving correspondent and an eccentric and dubious musician; all of which have plenty of dark secrets of their own to hide. An espionage element also works its way into the novel and a shower of drama pours from a very badly timed picnic, precipitating further violence and mystery.
In short this was another enjoyable and entertaining read by Ames. Jane and Dagobert do not disappoint. Dagobert is his usual unflappable self in the face of the danger, such as at the start of the novel when bullets were beginning to fly and he ‘had just been explaining that in classical tragedy death occurs at the end of the story whereas in a thriller it comes at the beginning – propaganda aimed at reassuring me that Sophocles and I (though tackling the problem differently) were aiming at the same thing.’ After all as far as Dagobert is concerned the dangers they face are good ‘copy’ and Jane does coyly write that ‘in the midst of life we are in crime fiction.’ The metafictional quality of the book, although not dominant, is always amusing when it does appear, such as when Jane says, ‘I wonder what he did with the girl in the crimson scarf? I’ve got it! The Lady Vanishes. Or has that idea been used?’
Ames in my opinion always pitches his humour at the right level, never going off key. I think it is the humanity of the humour which makes it work so well, as you can almost put yourself in Jane’s place, such as when she tries to get out of them using the tandem bicycle. She is initially feeling smug, believing it can be prevented, only to have a very ardent cyclist ruin it all for her. Not being a fan of cycling myself I certainly felt for Jane. There is also a moment when they arrive at the hotel and Jane pats a dog. She goes onto comment that the dog ‘gulped sentimentally, and I realised it was the beginning of one of those emotional entanglements which can prove so embarrassing;’ a line which reminds you of the times when you have made such ill-fated holiday acquaintances you know you’ll struggle to shake off. I do have to admit to also loving Jane’s tart responses to events and attitudes. After all I imagine such comments are the only sane way for her to cope with the truly bizarre adventures Dagobert gets her into. Not that she can’t laugh at herself when she makes less than wise decisions: ‘Some day I’ll have to have my woman’s intuition seen to.’ The fashion in novels is not always something which sticks in my mind, but it did this time when Dagobert is marching around the hotel in orange silk pyjamas and a mackintosh. Quite the image!
Although the book is predominantly light hearted, there are dark moments such as when some characters share about their war experiences and like in the last book, The Body on Page One (1951), the revealing of the solution is more poignant than jubilant. However, being an Ames’ novel the story is always left on a high. Dagobert may be discussing thrillers at the start of the book but I wouldn’t say this was a pure thriller novel, as the plot involves a number of twists and surprises, as first impressions in this book are rarely accurate, and when the culprit is revealed it is hard to not see the clues which were planted earlier on in the story.
Reasonably priced copies of this book are available online and it is one I’d recommend for readers wanting a light hearted and fun mystery novel. Why no one has reprinted Ames yet I do not know! In case any of you are wondering, yesterday I managed to procure a reasonably priced copy of the next book in the series, No Mourning for the Matador (1953), so hopefully I will be reviewing that one soon on the blog.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Red Head
Death of a Fellow Traveller (1950)