I've started to warm to the writing of E.R. Punshon, one of those Golden Age writers who enjoyed plenty of success and critical acclaim in his day, but has subsequently vanished from sight. He is rarely discussed in reference books about the genre, yet Dorothy L. Sayers was a big fan of his work.. My Forgotten Book for today is one of the early entries in his long series about Bobby Owen (the well-born Bobby is still a youthful sergeant in this book), Death Comes to Cambers.
This is a country house mystery which opens with the mysterious disappearance from her home of Lady Cambers. One of her guests at the time was - surprise, surprise! - Bobby himself. His grandmother, Lady Hirlpool, had introduced him to Lady Cambers, who was afraid of burglars. Her ladyship is soon found dead, and her jewellery is missing.
There is no shortage of suspects. In fact, the book does rather become bogged down in a seemingly endless series of interviews with the suspicious characters abounding in the vicinity - they include a fanatical cleric, an arrogant archaeologist, a sexy housemaid, a dodgy butler, and the victim's estranged husband, plus quite a few others. There are some amusing and well-written scenes. Punshon did have a sharp sense of humour and a taste for satire. But his verbosity does become a drag before the end of the book.
There are two newspaper ciphers, an ingenious alibi and plenty of opportunities for Bobby to show his sleuthing prowess. On the whole, though, I felt this a competent piece of work, but nothing more. A comparison with the light and breezy novels Agatha Christie was writing at the same time is instructive. Punshon's ideas about society and his prose style were probably quite impressive in their day, but they haven't stood the test of time as well as Christie's crisp brush strokes. She was a much more economical writer than Punshon, and in Golden Age fiction, economy of style is almost always a Good Thing..