This is the final Jane and Dagobert novel, yet not my final read of them as I am still on the hunt for the elusive She Wouldn’t Say Who (1957), which is the book before this one. *sighs* Along with Melville and Hull, Ames is one of my favourite vintage mystery authors. Proof of which can be found on the blog, as I have reviewed 10 of his books, across his two series, so far. I’ve also written by Jane Brown during the last Tuesday Night Bloggers theme on the greatest detectives, which you can read here.
A running theme throughout this series is the fact that Dagobert seems to have an inability to take on sustainable employment, much preferring to work on esoteric, yet profitless projects. Therefore no regular reader of the series will be surprised that the story begins with Dagobert perusing the situations vacant column. They’ll also not be surprised that as usual Dagobert dodges the task, being much more interested in using Jane’s premium bond bonus to go on holiday to Tabarca. He also decides to take on a career of entering newspaper/magazine competitions, which leads to a humorous section detailing the various consequences: running up a massive newsagent’s debt, getting really bad coughs from all the smoking they are doing in order to gain prize coupons, oh and Dagobert entering the scandal magazine, Home Truth’s Lucky Seven competition in Jane’s name, which in due course she wins, along with 6 others. As one of the lucky seven Jane gets use of a mink coat and a trip to Tabarca for 2 weeks. The other winners include: a teenage usherette, ‘a sort of vet’, a Colonel, a housewife, a widowed librarian and a native of Tabarca now living in Glasgow. Yet of course you know that these seemingly ordinary individuals are far from it and as the party make their way to Tabarca across the continent it not only seems they have much to hide, but that their winning of the competition may not have been so random, that they may in fact but enmeshed in a much more sinister scheme. This especially seems the case when during the ferry crossing one of them disappears, presumed to have fallen over board…
Those of you who have been following my Ames reviews will know that as this series progressed Ames’ focus tended to shifted, to an extent, away from the puzzle to the setting and characterisation, which makes this final novel all the more unusual, as for the last Jane and Dagobert mystery, Ames seems to have kept his love of all things Spanish under control and given much more attention to the puzzle component of the plot. Both the plot and the structure of the story deviate from Ames’ norm. Most of the book takes place during the trip to Tabarca and whilst there is an initial death, the trip is much more about an accumulation of information and puzzling out what is really behind the competition and its winners. Yet the arrival at Tabarca, then adds a further dimension to this puzzle, along with the tension over whether justice will be served and how such justice may be ultimately meted out. I was certainly pleasantly surprised by the number of twists Ames includes and I feel as though the plot of this book is much tighter and intricate. Equally I would say that this story’s puzzle has a layering effect.
Yet despite reining in his descriptions of the setting, I think the one Ames chooses works really well: a continental, seemingly luxurious, yet on the cheap holiday. Whilst in other Ames novels the comedy has been more metafictional, the humour in this one has a more naturalistic effect, revolving around social comedy between the characters – which in turn adds to the mystification of the plot. Though in and amongst the comedy, there are also moments of real pathos and I loved how certain characters, such as Margaret and Flossie, rise above their presumed social stereotypes. Jane and Dagobert, are as always, a huge delight and their temporary separation adds to the humour. Although there isn’t any metafictional comedy in this story, some of the jokes do centre on newspaper publications and the material they print. In some ways I would say this is satirised, shown to be artificial and even downright false at times. A good example of this is when the Home Truth’s co-owner and editor writes up the information on the winners, including Jane and of course the description given of her is so inaccurate that she writes: ‘My public followed this fanciful description carefully trying to discover a resemblance between it and me.’
So it is really pleasing that Ames ended his series on such a high, as there was a surprising amount of clever misdirection. I do feel a little sad that I have reached the end of the series, though I am consoling myself that I do have one more Jane and Dagobert read … once I track it down of course.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Has been on my TBR pile