Jane and Dagobert Brown’s Cases: Another Classic Crime Ranking

Today’s post is the latest addition in my very occasional series of ranked lists. Below are the authors whose works I have ranked so far:

Anthony Berkeley

Leo Bruce

Classic Crime Christmas Mysteries

Alice Tilton

Christianna Brand

Christopher St John Sprigg

Whilst I have read one of Ames’ early non-series novels, (not to be recommended), and three of his four Juan Llorca novels, (which are good but not Ames at his best), this list is going to focus solely on his twelve book Jane and Dagobert Brown series, which I only finished reading this year. It has taken many years to reach this stage, not least because it took me around 4 years to find the final book I needed. Is it too bold a claim to say that classic crime hunters are the most avid and dogged in their pursuit of long-lost literary treasures? Below are some photos of my collection to date. Not the prettiest perhaps, as many don’t have dustjackets, but I was quite pleased about getting some of the Hodder & Stoughton yellow covers.

It will be interesting to see what comments this list will elicit, as whilst I know some readers who have read a few of these books, I don’t think I know anyone who has read them all, so there might not be anyone to question my rankings. [Cue ten or so people who have read them all and thoroughly disagree with all my choices…]

I should also say that a lot of these books shared the same ratings so it was a tough job deciding what order the novels should go in.

In 12th place is…

This was the last book I needed to read to complete my collection, and it took a very long time to locate. I would say it is the least light-hearted book in the series, and it sees the Brown’s relationship under the most strain. I would also say it departs from the usual format of the other books and it takes some time for the mystery to take shape. It has a theatrical component, but it does not have the bizazz of other theatre mysteries.

In 11th place is…

In the middle of Jane and Dagobert Brown series, Ames becomes quite keen on setting his books in Europe and within these tales I would say there is a greater focus on character and setting. There is a less metafictional humour in this book, which may or may not be a deficit, depending on how much you like that form of comedy. I am not sure how much of the solution is solvable by the reader, though there is definitely one sneaky clue which I completely missed when I was reading it.

In 10th place is…

This book was my biggest quandary in deciding where to place it within my list, as Corpse Diplomatique (1950) has a lot of good points, yet the mystery component has some issues which slow the pace. I feel like this is the longest book Ames wrote and I am not sure the mystery benefits from it. There is a lot of good components, and plenty of humorous moments, but the puzzle aspect was not utilised as well as it could have been.

In 9th place is…

Crime Out of Mind (1956) is another of the Europe-set novels, this time in Austria. This time it is less of a working holiday and more of a mission to save Dagobert’s cousin from an imprudent marriage, (a task given to them by his aunt Prudence.) However, the unsuitable woman is dead before the Browns have even arrived. What placed this book above No Mourning for the Matador, is the character based humour, which is a notch better in this instance and I also felt the characterisation more generally had greater nuance, especially with the depiction of a German Officer, who was imprisoned in Siberia during WW2.

In 8th place is…

This is another Spain-set mystery which is part of Ames’ writing style transition into the Juan Llorca novels he wrote in the 1960s. Part of this change involves less metafictional humour and the plots are more rooted in their settings. I felt this tale had stronger plotting as the crimes Dagobert investigates are quite complex and have unusual features, such as the manner in which the primary victim is murdered. There are ample red herrings in this book, but I think the reader will be able to piece together enough of the solution to figure out who has done the deed. In my review I noted something Christie-esque about the choice of killer, but for the life of me I can’t remember what this was! This mystery also has a slightly unorthodox ending.

In 7th place is…

This book has some of the best metafictional humour in the series and part of me mused whether or not a re-read might have bumped its rating up a notch. This is also a book which I toyed with putting in 6th place, so I wouldn’t write this one off for being in 7th – as most of this list is worth getting. Jane and Dagobert may not work together much when sleuthing, but they both contribute to the solving of the mystery and it is amusing to see Jane find things out with much less hassle and effort than Dagobert. I liked how the killer is hidden in plain sight in this story and I did not feel like they had been pulled out of a hat. I remember this being a very entertaining read.

In 6th place is…

 In Murder, Maestro, Please (1952) the Browns are off to the Pyrenees, travelling around on a tandem bicycle, so understandably there is much humour to be had from this as Jane is no one’s keen cyclist. Characters and humour are on top form in this piece and it is the humanity in Ames’ humour which makes it work so well. First impressions are deceptive and Ames has more than one surprise in store for the reader.

In 5th place is…

There is not much to separate this book from its’ predecessor in 6th place, but I am particularly fond of a humorous child called Appollinaire, who features in The Body on Page One (1951). It is also interesting to see the Browns solving a mystery whilst not on holiday.

In 4th place is…

She Shall Have Murder (1949) is the first book in the series and it features Jane in a full-time job at an office. The mystery is probably less zany as a consequence, but I wouldn’t say that is a bad thing in this instance. I think it sets Jane and Dagobert up effectively as amateur sleuths and launches Jane into her mystery novel writing career. It also demonstrates Ames’ comedy skills but also his maintain emotional complexity within his plots.

In 3rd place is…

For my American readers this title was published under the alternative name of A Coffin for Christopher. This is another London set book and it is one of the less overtly humorous ones. However, what puts it into the top 3 are its characters and the quality of the puzzle mystery posed. I would also say this book has the best solution offered by Ames for a crime and also the weirdest fictional night club scene. Puzzle-focused fans, if they get an opportunity, should definitely try this one, though to Ames’ credit there is no subsidence in the depth of characterisation provided.

In 2nd place is…

For Old Crime’s Sake (1959), a.k.a. Lucky Jane, is the final book in the Jane and Dagobert Brown series and it deviates away from the style of Ames’ transition novels, (which I have commented on above). It is always pleasing when a series can end on a high note. The set up for this story is a good one, with Dagobert’s latest career plan involving entering a lot of newspaper competitions. Despite returning to the Continent in this mystery, the setting does not override the puzzle factor. I felt this plot was tighter and more intricate than some of his others and was structurally quite different from his usual pattern for setting up a crime. Ames’ flair for comedy also works well with the cheap holiday and newspaper/magazine milieus deployed.

So in first place it can only be…

Murder Begins at Home (1949) is the second book in the series and the only story to not take place in Europe. The psychological depth of the characters in this tale fuel the plot of the mystery powerfully and effectively, with a fictional precursor to Christie’s Rachel Argyle being the primary murder victim. The solution is another of the best ones and interestingly comes in two parts. There are lots of clues to grapple with, physical and psychological, as well as alibis to ponder over. There is not much in the way of metafictional humour, but there is still a consistent vein of comedy which reminded me of Celia Fremlin’s social commentary.

So that is my list! Feel free to agree or wildly disagree and let me know which have been your favourites.

On a final note, further to my nerdy comment in yesterday’s review of Corpse Diplomatique, I have now confirmed pretty much that Death of a Fellow Traveller is the third book in the series, and contrary to other online information, Corpse Diplomatique is the fourth book. On the cover of Death of a Fellow Traveller you will notice two Great Danes, followed by the caption: ‘our souvenirs’ and on the first page of the story it is said they only had a cat at the beginning. Moreover, I have found out that Death of a Fellow Traveller was published in June 1950, whilst reviews for Corpse Diplomatique do not appear until October/November of that year, (thank you Jamie for checking this for me on the British Newspaper Archives website). Jamie, who has a first edition of Death of a Fellow Traveller, was also able to add that the only other titles listed in that series in this copy, were She Shall Have Death and Murder Begins at Home.

This is my 1299th post, and for my 1300th post I am doing something a little bit different, so keep your eyes peeled!

14 comments

  1. I have only read She Shall Have Murder thus far (thanks to you) but will be on the lookout for others as I found it a delightful read, right up there with the Jerrold as being most enjoyable that I’ve read lately. Struggling a bit with the Cecil Waye I started but hoping it picks up for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am really pleased you enjoyed your introduction to Jane and Dagobert Brown. Hopefully someone kind publisher will reprint the whole series and then it will be more easily available for everyone to enjoy. I’ve not tried anything by Waye yet – what are you not liking about it?

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      • I haven’t really felt a connection to the brother/sister duo who are the detectives. So far, she seems a bit too much like a “Nancy Drew” type (not that I’m knocking Nancy Drew—I’d just like a bit more complexity in an adult detective). But I’m only in the beginning of the investigation and I try to be patient, knowing some take a while to catch me. But Jane and Dagobert caught me right from the get-go!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Bravo. While I read lots, I only COLLECT Agatha Christie, P.G Wodehouse, Nero Wolfe, and Delano Ames’ Jane & Dagobert Brown series. All complete except still missing 4 ‘Browns’. Need more time and/or money!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve only read numbers 6, 9 and 10 as I prefer to buy books from second-hand bookshops rather than the internet, which is also crazy – I know. I just hope there will be some such shops still in business when things open up again!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. There seem to be a couple of Ames books available to read at archive.org, including number one above.

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  5. I love the Jane and Dagobert books. I have 5. My personal favorite is Murder Maestro Please. I search periodically for Ames series. I have paid as much as $15 dollars for one book. Would loves to know any resources on finding books in this series. It’s so funny because I picked up the first book for $1.00 st a used book sale. Now I’m hooked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am very impressed you found one for $1. I have not been able to buy any that cheaply. Copies can go for silly prices at times. It would be great if the whole series could be reprinted.

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