Friday, 8 March 2013

Forgotten Book - Death of a Beauty Queen

My Forgotten Book for today is Death of a Beauty Queen, written by E.R. Punshon, and first published in 1935. It's a period piece, certainly, but perhaps the best of the Punshon books that I've read to date. There is a good deal of humour, although the wit is a bit laboured and dated. But the plot is interesting and unusual. I did figure out the culprit early on, I'm afraid, but even so Punshon kept me entertained enough to want to read on.

The story opens with a beauty contest being held in a cinema. Caroline Mears, gorgeous but hard as nails. is the hot favourite, and she boosts her chances by playing a dirty trick on her closest rival. The prize involves the chance of going to Hollywood, but Carrie does not live to collect - she is found dead, stabbed in the neck. So unpleasant was she, however, that there are plenty of people around who had a motive to kill her.

The detective work is shared between Superintendent Mitchell and young Bobby Owen, and they buzz around interviewing suspects and witnesses before a young man who was in love with Carrie commits suicide. Owen is an amiable enough chap, though I certainly would not, on the evidence of the three cases of his that I've read, rank him alongside the great detective characters, as he isn't sufficiently memorable.

Punshon's writing was much admired by Dorothy L. Sayers, and this book gave me a better understanding of why she rated him highly. He was very prolific, and obviously liked to focus on current social trends to give colour to his narratives, but time hasn't treated some of his descriptive writing too kindly. Even so, there is a genial craftsmanship about this story that lifts it out of the commonplace.

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