She Wouldn’t Say Who (1957) by Delano Ames

This is the book. The book which I have been hunting for, for years. We all have one of those books, don’t we? In my case it was a book from a favourite author, and this was the only title left I needed to complete the Jane and Dagobert Brown series. My main difficulty in getting a hold of this book was the fact there were no copies available online, ridiculously priced or otherwise, except for two occasions during the past 4-5 years; both of which went beyond my budget. It hasn’t helped that this book is only available in hardback and there are no paperback reprints. It seemed like I was destined to never get this book until I had a lovely surprise last week when I received an email from someone who knew I was looking for the book and knew of one being sold. It was very much a Willie Wonka golden ticket finding moment.

Of course, there was that anxious wait for the item to arrive in the post: would it get lost? Then there was a new anxiety: What, if after all this time, the book was terrible?

The Brown novels have a distinctive feel, particularly when it comes to how they begin. Jane Brown, adhoc writer, narrates their adventures and usually the first chapters update you on their current circumstances: where they’re living, their financial situation and what is the latest madcap idea her husband Dagobert is pursuing. All these elements are present in today’s read, though the seasoned reader of this series may be in for a shock: Dagobert has got himself a salaried job! It is hard to say whether Jane or the reader are more surprised. It is not that he is workshy, but he very much hates routine and prefers taking on freelance projects which are intellectually stimulating, though very unlikely to yield much of a, or sometimes any, financial recompense.

Initially Jane tells us that:

 ‘Dagobert was wavering between work of an unspecified nature and a deserted monastery in a remote Sardinian hill village which was going for practically nothing when his great-uncle Tancred died and left us a hundred shares in Amalgamated Ferro-Concrete (Lathomstowe) Limited, market value seventeen pounds, five shillings each.’

Past experience told her to buy ‘an Italian dictionary, a pair of stout boots at Lillywhites and a large tin of D. D. T.’ Yet it seems instead Dagobert has got himself a job at the personnel branch of Amalgamated Ferro-Concrete. The regular reader of the Brown novels will be further surprised to hear that Dagobert goes on to enlarge ‘upon the advantages of regular employment with an enthusiasm he normally reserves for projects like crossing the Gobi Desert in a Land Rover.’ Jane further records that:

‘Security, he told me over the lobster thermidor, was basically what I longed for. Like every woman, I was at heart, he said, a suburban housewife who dreamed of settling down in a house of her own.’

The new-to-Ames reader should take these patriarchal statements with a pinch of salt though, as such remarks are bathetically undercut by Jane:

‘The quotation was not unfamiliar. I may have said something like it myself last year when we lived above the tinsmith in the Grand Suk in Tangier.’

Throughout the series we see Jane despairing at Dagbert’s latest maverick decision, whilst equally rather enjoying the adventures that ensue. I have quoted at length from the opening page, as one of the real pleasures of the series is the narrative voice and it is during these pages, that the new “adventure” is set up, but also when we begin to discover where the catch might be. Can we really imagine Dagobert keeping to a regular 9-5 job for long? And for nothing to go wrong during it?

Jane and Dagobert have travelled the world, yet it seems like the conventional lifestyle, might be the finish of them and this is the only novel in which their relationship, for a time, is pushed to breaking point. But Ames explores this very adeptly and in a fairly unusual way. It all starts when the Browns move into their new rental home; their landlady, Beryl, deciding to rent her home and live elsewhere, when her husband ups and leaves her to run away with a typist to Canada. Jane is inspired to write a novel about this marital discord and how their landlady’s determined nature to be the perfect housewife may have contributed to her husband’s departure. The novel remains unpublished, thrown in the bin, but little by little Jane appears to be turning into Beryl and Dagobert has begun to stay out late. Jane writes:

‘I wrote Beryl’s story. Then one day I awoke with a jolt to find I was living it.’

Everything tries to come to a head one night. Jane is convinced Dagobert is about to tell her he is leaving her for another woman. The reader is not so sure. The answer is, of course, very Dagobert-like and once this truth has been revealed then the zaniness of the earlier novels comes flooding in.

But where is the mystery Kate? That is a fair question. There is one, don’t worry, but Ames comes at it from an unconventional angle beyond this stage in the story and to explain it accurately would entail describing a lot of the book and I don’t want to spoil it for you. (Yes, I appreciate the likelihood of anyone getting a hold of this book, short of a reprint, is unlikely, but you never know.) So, to give you some hints, it involves a series of incidents in which life and limb are threatened, but do not succeed in doing so – all the time. Those involved are reluctant to involve the police. There are many misunderstandings, late nights and hidden identities. Metafiction weaves a wonderful thread through the whole piece with real life becoming fiction and fiction becoming real life.

Overall Thoughts

If any book in this series was to be the odd one out, then I would say it was this one. Now there is a general shift which take place over the series. The earlier books 1-5 are more puzzle orientated in my opinion and the second half of the series becomes more setting, comedy and character focused. This is especially the case for those set on the continent and Ames would go on to write quartet of mysteries set in Spain in the 1960s, with Juan Llorca as the detective. There are some exceptions in the later Brown books, particularly Crime Gentlemen Please (1954) and For Old Crime’s Sake (1959). Nevertheless, regardless of this change, the Brown books are invariably light and breezy.

Not so this time with She Wouldn’t Say.

Instead of the typical opening in which the Browns begin their latest trip/working holiday, we have the fracturing of the Brown’s relationship as they “settle down” and this sets the book off on a darker note. It is interesting that Ames builds up this difficulty over the first quarter of the novel, before using the confrontation to direct the plot in a different direction.

Consequently, it takes some time for the “crime” to appear and it certainly does not materialise in a linear fashion. The bodies in Ames’ novels tend to follow orthodox routes, with a corpse appearing and the Browns plunging in to figure out what happened. In some ways this time round Dagobert is waiting for a murder which has not taken place yet and it is a case of whether he can anticipate when it will occur. For the reader this presents an unusual reading experience as it takes some time to map out the trajectory of the plot. There is still a great deal of comedy to be had in this piece, in case any Brown fans were concerned about the untypical opening of the novel. In keeping with some of the later books the detection is looser, but as always there remains a great deal of fun to be had.

Am I disappointed this wasn’t a 5/5 read? I don’t think I am too much. Having read the other books I knew that the later books tend to shift focus – though as I have said this does not impede the entertainment the read had to offer. Don’t get me wrong a 5/5 would have been brilliant, but I think this book is akin to Schrödinger’s Cat experiment. Not knowing what the book was about and whether or not it was any good, was far more irksome than being able to open the box, or in this case book, and discovering the book was more of a middle of the road read. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this book as an introduction to the series, an Ames completist need not fear it being a dire read.

Finally, I have decided I am going to circle back to the first three books in the series and review them, with the aim of producing another ranked list. Bet you can’t contain your excitement now, can you?

Rating: 4/5

31 comments

  1. What fun to finally find something you have been looking for for ages. I have found several things in small used book stores in remote Ontario towns. Always exciting.
    The book I looked for longest I found online last year. Not as much fun as seeing it on a shelf but it’ll do. Guess when I started looking for it.
    1974
    Haven’t read it yet!

    I have one Ames kicking around somewhere, but I think it’s a spy novel.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I think you’re thinking of someone else. Ames didn’t write spy books, at least not in the Brown series and She Shall Have Murder is the first in that series and features a murder set at Jane’s workplace. Unorthodox for the time, but Jane and Dagobert are not married in this book, yet they are living together – which is unusual to have in fiction, especially when it’s light comic crime.

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      • Could it have been Jack Iams you were thinking of? Similar last names, and Iams wrote at least one spy thriller.

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      • Build My Gallows High by Geoffrey Homes, a pseudonym for a man named Daniel Mainwaring.
        This book was adapted (by him) for Out of the Past, one of the very best films noir. And Mainwaring also wrote …. Invasion of the Bodysnatchers! So two famous and well loved movies and no one has heard of him.
        I read another Homes last year and liked it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Huh maybe it is harder to get a hold of in the US, as I checked online for Build My Gallows and UK ebay has quite a few copies which are not ridiculously priced. Though perhaps they have just appeared recently.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, it’s funny how these things vary place to place. I remember Puzzle Doctor talking about some book that was as rare as hen’s teeth there but it was easily found here. You too, but I forget which titles. And yet I searched for years for the Carr title The Black Spectacles, which British bloggers seemed to have no trouble finding.

        >

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      • I know who Geoffrey Homes is! And I think I have every one of his mystery novels — the first ones with Robin Bishop, his reporter sleuth ,and the others with milk drinking private eye Humphrey Campbell. I’ve reviewed a couple of his books on my blog, one post was done in the first year of my blog back in 2011.

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  2. I love the Delano Ames books that I’ve managed to get a hold of, but I refuse to pay the crazy prices some ask for them. There’s a copy of one of his books in the St Andrews Oxfam bookshop and they want about £200 for it, it has been there for at least two years though.

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    • I agree. The first third are the more widely available and Dell did an edition of the fourth book. Murder Maestro Please and For Old Crime’s Sake also pop up as they made it into paperback. The others are more scarce and it would be great if someone could reprint the whole series in one fell swoop.

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      • It does!

        Or Dover Publications. I have in the past suggested titles to Dover. I suggested three old math textbooks and they eventually issued two of them. I suggested a mystery too but they didn’t print it. Still, they clearly take suggestions seriously.

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  3. Congratulations. It is a red letter day when a long sought book is finally acquired. I do like Dagobert and Jane though it seems likely I’ll never read this one. Next best is to read a review so many thanks, at least I have some idea of what I’m missing.

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  4. I am very happy that you finally found a copy of the last Jane and Dagobert book that you needed. It does sound very different. And you have motivated me to check what I have read and what I still have. I read the first two in the series (so, not that many), and I have three more, but one of them is the very last one in the series. Another author I should get back to.

    I think I have only had one book that I looked for for quite a while with little success. It was a paperback edition of Murder Sunny Side Up by R.B. Dominic (aka Emma Lathen). It was the first in a series but also had a skull on the cover. When I first looked for it all copies online were $100 or more, and it did not show up at used bookstores at all. After several years, my husband found a copy of it for $4 in San Jose, California which totally thrilled me. And then, after that, it came down to reasonable prices online too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well you are safe to read the books out of order, there are no major plot developments in terms of the long term characters. The last book in the series is a very strong read too. Your $4 find is very pleasing – wish the Ames novels were that cheap lol

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