I’ve reviewed Ames’s work a lot this year, 6 times in fact and some of you may have been relieved when my progress was halted due to a dearth of reasonably priced copies for later books in the Jane and Dagobert Brown series. You may have thought no more Ames reviews this year at least and to be fair this was what I was thinking, though slightly more despondently. However fortunately for me I got a lucky break a few weeks ago and managed to procure sanely priced copies of: Landscape with Corpse (1955), Crime Out of Mind (1956) and For Old Crime’s Sake (1959). The only Brown novel I am now missing is She Wouldn’t Say Who (1957). Equally with Ames’s Juan Llorca series I am only missing one: The Man with Three Passports (1967). Ames did write a handful of non-series mysteries but they are very rare, occasionally appearing online for ridiculous prices. Whilst I am hopeful of completing the two series at some point, getting my hands on the non-series ones might be beyond me.
Enough of my day dreams back to Landscape with Corpse, which sees the Browns back abroad and in Spain once more, this time in a village named Paraiso de Mar. The return to this country is not surprising as Ames went to Spain to live there in the latter part of his life and is in keeping with how he then moved onto his second mystery series which is set entirely in Spain. The opening has a travelogue feel, though definitely one with its tongue in its cheek. In particular we are told about a festival for a saint named Santa Serafina, who died of spontaneous combustion. Norman Bloomfield, a newcomer to the village, with his wife and stepdaughter, is immediately taken with this sainted figure and goes to great lengths to contribute to the festivities. Yet Bloomfield’s new obsession does not end well as the closing lines of chapter 1 indicate:
‘Both had come from distant shores – she on the stone from the Holy Land, he on the S. S. Constitution from New York – to find Paraiso in sore need of their ministrations. Both had run into difficulties and caused riots; Serafina when she attempted to put a stop to the primitive Iberian practice of human sacrifice; Norman when he tried to introduce baseball as a substitute for bullfighting. And yet in the end each achieved miracles. Serafina in the matter of Christianity; Norman Bloomfield, more modestly, in the matter of modern plumbing. There was even to a certain modest parallel in the matter of their deaths…’
So yes Bloomfield meets his end during the parade, whilst hidden beneath the statue that is being carried through the streets in swathes of drapery and finery and which mysteriously begins smoking with fire shortly before Bloomfield dies (not due to the fire). Of course Jane and Dagobert are firm fixtures of the village, having gone there for Daobert’s latest translation work. Initially Bloomfield is said to have died of natural causes but this changes when the police arrive to interview Dagobert and it is a new experience for Dagobert to be viewed with suspicion by the police. But then the circumstantial evidence does begin to look bad. However there are many other potential suspects including Bloomfield’s wife. Bad luck she has an unbreakable alibi. Or does she? Other deaths soon follow and there are two other key strands to the narrative and the central crime, which come together in the final showdown and solution.
Having read so many of the Ames novels now and in particular having read the Brown novels in order, I can see how Ames’ writing evolves over the series, as there is a definite transition between his zany metafictional style of his earlier novels, in comparison to his later novels in the Brown series and in the complete Llorca series, which are more subdued in their humour and are much more rooted in their settings. Today’s read is more overtly one of these transitional novels. Yet for all that I don’t think Jane and Dagobert change. They are still themselves thankfully, including Dagobert’s allergy to having a stable career:
‘But I was worried about Dagobert. There was in his eyes that indefinable “longing to get away from it all” which attacks him so recurrently. He is evasive when asked to define that “it all” consists of. Could it be the threat of employment?’
Nor has he lost his spontaneous nature:
‘But he has also bought a book called Teach Yourself Arabic in case, as he says, we go over to Tangier for the week-end. We once went for the week-end to Southend and stayed six months.’
Jane’s understated humour still comes through in the book and there is an amusing bit of metafictional humour in that Dagobert is teaching the local Lieutenant how to speak English using crime fiction novels such as those from Agatha Christie and Peter Cheyne. What made me smile is that this is not such a far flung idea as I know of ESOL projects which use Christie in their teachings.
Ames provides quite a complicated crime or crimes rather. The method of Bloomfield’s death is fairly unusual in what it involves and how and when it was administered. The case is not a straight forward one, with new surprises and turns of events around every corner and events which seem to have one interpretation, eventually have a completely different one. Whilst I don’t think the reader will have figured out the entire solution by themselves, I think like me, quite a few will have suspicions which turn out correct over who is guilty, despite the ample coverage of red herrings. There is something Christie-esque about Ames’s selection in this department. The solution used is quite a familiar one I imagine, as it had been used in a well-known book prior to this one – though not one of Christie’s. The ending to this story in keeping with the solution is fairly unorthodox in some ways.
So overall quite a good read. Ames is always ready to laugh at the foibles of the human condition, kindly of course, and it is enjoyable to see a writer who can update the time period of their novels as time progresses, without it looking painfully twee and awkward.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Door