This will probably be my final Ames review of the year and alas I am still on the hunt for a reasonably priced copy of She Wouldn’t Say Who (1957). Now that would be one heck of a charity shop find!
Like many other novels in the series, Dagobert and Jane Brown are off on their travels again, this time in the Austrian Tyrol, for something more like a working holiday. Dagobert’s aunt Prudence has sent the pair to catch up with her botanist son, Peregrine, whose cryptic postcard references are suggesting a romantic interest in a local Austrian woman named Tilly. These references cause further alarm when he says the woman’s uncle, Baron Dietrich von Jenbach has been taking an interest in Peregrine’s family owned diamond mine in South Africa. Gold digger, with roving eye alert indeed! Yet Prudence’s worries are quickly terminated in the story as the Browns learn on arrival that Tilly has died…
‘She giggled helplessly, clutching at the veranda balustrade to keep her balance. Her eyes streamed with tears of laughter […] She thought she would die laughing. Apparently she did.’
But was her fall into the river just an accident? Or was it something more sinister? The Browns certainly have an interesting cast of suspects, including a very confused American hiker named Lee Smith and a greatly disturbed Hungarian, who is determined to convince everyone he is British. There is also a highly strung singer and reclusive composer thrown into the mix. The Brown’s interest in the case is initially lukewarm, but when it looks like Peregrine is going to be arrested, their investigation cranks up a notch, though of course there is no knowing how Dagobert will conclude this case, except that whatever he does, will be highly unorthodox. Though always for the best of reasons.
Ames as always knows how to open his story in an entertaining fashion as we read the postcard Peregrine sends home and then how others react to it. Not being much of a lady killer his mother of course thinks initially that Tilly is related to his botany interests: ‘His letters had been full of Trollius and Trifolium and (Prudence suddenly recalled Tilly). Indeed he had written of her with such warmth and frequency that Prudence, a hasty reader, had not unnaturally assumed that she was some species of rock plant.’ And of course there is Ames’ characteristic narrative bombshell at the end of the first chapter, which I shall not spoil for you, but it certainly opens the mystery out further. Equally Ames maintains an offhand and understated manner when discussing the central death, though I think he is more sensitive as to how he handles the death and violence which happened in WW2 to the characters in the book. One of his central characters is a German officer who was imprisoned in Siberia as the war concluded and how Ames depicts this character is highly interesting, as it is not until the end that you really know how to interpret him. But then Ames is deft at capturing an individual’s voice. Aunt Prudence is a good example of this. We never meet her in the flesh and she only really features twice in the book, yet from these two instances we know exactly what sort of a person she is; a woman whose idea of news constitutes the housekeeper threatening to quit unless a TV is put in the kitchen. You can tell she is nonchalant towards and not really keeping up with the vast social changes taking place around her.
Another theme which has worked its way through the Brown novels is the way Jane, the narrator, self-consciously comments on mystery writing and in this book I particularly enjoyed her brief parodying of the HIBK genre: ‘I began to think of a deep, warm bath and the fragrance of a piping hot Wiener Schnitzel to follow. Had I, as we say, had I but known then what I was so shortly to discover. I mean that Peregrine had completely forgotten to reserve a room for us.’ The bathos here worked really effectively and equally I thought the word play revolving around malapropisms was done well. Some of Ames’ titles have seemed a bit random, but I think this time his choice of title is very fitting and works well with how the plot ultimately pans out.
So another entertaining segment in the Brown series. There is the odd copy of this book online, though prices vary widely.
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item (Silver Card): Green hat