When Paul Brande of the book publishers Barnabas and Company disappeared on a Thursday night, no one thought much of it for the first couple of days. But by Sunday, his wife Gina was getting concerned, so Paul’s cousin and colleague Mike Westwood called his friend Albert Campion to come by and see what he could find out. The next morning, Paul’s body turned up in the company strong room, which was locked from the outside. The curious thing is that Paul had been dead for a few days, yet Mike had been down to the strong room the night before and hadn’t seen the body, which was found lying in plain slight, impossible to miss. Worse, Mike is known to have carried a torch for Gina ever since Paul married her. But this being a Golden Age detective novel, you know it’s not likely that the most obvious suspect did it. So who did? And how?
This is a perfectly enjoyable mystery, filled with clever twists and turns, but it’s probably my least favorite Campion novel so far. Like Death of a Ghost, it’s more traditional than the earlier Campion books. You’ve got the locked room, the list of suspects, and the clues and red herrings. And there’s some courtroom drama as well. It’s all good. I just missed the deceptively goofy Campion of the earlier books. At this point, he seems to be growing out of the affable idiot persona (which he couldn’t put on among friends anyway), but he hasn’t developed a more interesting personality to take its place.
I did enjoy Campion’s banter with his valet Lugg, who I missed very much in the last book. Lugg has decided that it’s time to shed his informal habits and become a proper gentleman’s gentleman, and his new manner annoys Campion very much. The fancy collars, perfect diction, and formality toward guests are not what Campion wants at all, so he ends up telling Lugg off for trying to be a perfect servant. And Lugg’s idea of perfection does not include refraining from talking back.
Aside from the relationship with Lugg, there wasn’t a lot to make this novel stand out. The Ritchie Barnabas character was well-drawn, and the way his story turned out was particularly satisfying. Aside from one not-quite-but-almost-breathtaking moment, the book doesn’t have the level of suspense of the previous books. It’s not a bad book, but not as much fun as I know a Campion novel can be.