Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Wooden Overcoat - Pamela Branch

First published 1951; cover shown is the 1961 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover design by Romek Marber.

In Murder Every Monday, Clifford Flush and his group of Homicide Consultants (all of whom had been wrongly acquitted of at least one murder) were rusticating in the English countryside, teaching their popular how-to course to first-timers.

In The Wooden Overcoat, Flush and friends have returned to London and have set up their own club in Chelsea. Benji Cann, recently acquitted of the murder of his mistress, is invited to join the club. When he realises just who the other members are - infamous murderers all - he has second thoughts, and a disgruntled Flush sends him next door to Fan Hilford and her friends, where there is a room to let.

When Fan finds Benji dead in his bed the next morning, you'd think it would be easy enough to call the police and let them handle it. But Fan thinks her husband Peter may have done it, Peter thinks Fan may have done it, the other housemates are sure each other did it and it seems the only thing to do is hide the body and hope for the best.

Next door at the Asterisk Club, Flush is watching the increasingly strange goings-on of Fan and her friends, and soon realises what has happened. When the body is carried to a car, only to return hours later and be carried back into the house, Flush knows he can't leave the job to such obvious amateurs as Fan, Peter, Rex, Hugo and Bertha, who obviously don't know the first thing about successful body disposal.

This dark murder mystery by Pamela Branch is macabre in parts, and some readers have complained that it makes crime and murder seem frivolous and humorous. But it's a novel - it's not meant to be taken seriously! I found it hilarious, especially Fan, Rex and Bertha's madcap attempts to offload the body. And then there's Alfred Beesum the rat exterminator, who is an amazing character. Definitely unique, definitely different, this is a gem of a mystery novel!

No comments: