Sunday, April 22, 2007

Bump in the Night - Colin Watson

First published 1960; cover shown is the 1963 Penguin Books paperback edition. Cover art by Acey Silliman.

I love finding a new Colin Watson: they're guaranteed to be completely readable. They are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes rude, and always, always interesting.

Watson's jacket photo shows a very mild looking man, with glasses, receding hairline, thin features and a small moustache. I read once that the wife of writer H.R.F. Keating barely noticed the nondescript Watson at literary dinners; she thought he seemed a quiet, scholarly type. Then she read one of his books... and was shocked.

Bump in the Night starts with a bang: the local drinking fountain in the small town of Chalmsbury is blown to bits. On successive Tuesdays two more explosions occur, one blowing the head off a war statue and the other decimating an optician's prized giant spectacles.

Inspector Purbright, Flaxborough's only policeman with any sense, is sent to Chalmsbury when it becomes known that the town's Chief Inspector may have set the bombs himself. A fourth explosion occurs shortly after Purbright's arrival... but this time the victim was human flesh and blood. Now the hunt is on for a killer.

Surrounded by the usual assortment of eccentric village locals eager to help with his enquiries, Purbright finds this special investigation far from enjoyable. Not only does he have to tread lightly to avoid upsetting the Chief Inspector, he also has to contend with embarrassing marital infidelities, an overly-motherly boarding house proprietress and head office breathing hard down his neck. As usual it's the village locals that make this Flaxborough series novel so readable - that and Watson's unmatched talent for penning hilarious physical descriptions.

Critic and author Julian Symons summed this novel up perfectly: 'Genially obscene, pawkishly funny, sharply observant, this is one of the most enjoyable crime stories I have read for months.'

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