I got this novella free in my goodie bag at the Bodies from the Library conference and in need of a quick easy read I decided to give this one a go. It all begins with Scott Reed, who is a publisher and at the start of the book he is dashing to meet Alfred Kelby, a historian, as he plans on publishing Margaret Spender’s diary. Spender was the secret lover and secretary of Lord Delamore, who was also mysteriously murdered in 1947. Due to the diary being from within living history there are lots of people mentioned who are still alive, including Kelby. He gives Kelby the diary to read through and give his opinion on how accurate it is. Of course no one is surprised when Kelby is kidnapped at the end of Chapter 1, nor when he is later found dead, the diary missing. Paul Temple’s entry into the case as amateur sleuth is made through Scott who is also his publisher. The diary is not the only angle, as we also have a layabout older son and a debtor unable to pay up. As in keeping with other Durbridge stories further deaths follow, 5 according to my calculations, which is quite something within a 140 paged story.
In terms of the mystery plot I would say Durbridge does a good job, not only of bringing the Temple mysteries up to the date with the time he was writing but also in providing a simple yet complicated mystery for the reader to follow. Scandal in high places seems far more in keeping with 1970s than missing submarine plans after all. 60s/70s fashion is nodded at various points, especially in regards to women and we even have the Temples using a Swedish egg chair in their home. There are still some pleasing older notes though such as this line: ‘Charlie climbed from the car muttering about literary bloody gentlemen and the gritty realism of police work’ and there is even a Freeman Wills Crofts reference. Then again Paul Temple was driving past Guilford.
Yet the narrative becomes increasingly troubling, with someone high up in government circles acting in a very questionable manner, given the way various people decide to commit suicide after meeting with them, one of which the reader distressingly experiences first hand. The ethics of the police and Paul Temple, as well as their competence are severely undermined as the second half of the book progresses. Paul suffice to say is very careless with people’s lives and any modern police force would be on the carpet for the errors and unnecessary deaths that occur. Though at least one policeman decides to not drink drive…
One of my bugbears with the Temple series is his relationship with his wife, Steve, to the extent that I was quite surprised when I recently heard someone saying they really loved this aspect. Their marriage is definitely not an even one, with Paul requiring a lot of regular ego massaging and of course this would not be a Paul Temple mystery if Steve doesn’t go off and try to do something independently, for it to all end in failure and humiliation for herself.
On the whole I would say this mystery started well and the mystery plot structure is a good one, yet it is let down by the social world it is situated in, which drags it down, especially in the second half. However the pacing is faultless as ever, you definitely can’t say you don’t get your money or pages worth when it comes to action and dead bodies. So whilst this was not the world’s best read I am hopefully going to enjoy Durbridge more in my next encounter with his work, having recently procured some of the TV shows he created. I enjoyed A Game of Murder, which I saw a while ago, so hoping the same will happen again with the others.
Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): Academic
If you’re interested in finding out more about Durbridge and his considerable output in fiction, radio, theatre, TV and film, then check out Francis Durbridge: The Complete Guide (2018) by Melvyn Barnes.