Friday, 31 January 2014

Forgotten Book - Information Received

I've mentioned E.R. Punshon several times in this blog. There's not much doubt he's a forgotten writer, and the first time I read a book by him,I wasn't especially sympathetic to his rediscovery. However, I knew that Dorothy L. Sayers, among others, rated him highly, and I felt I should give him another try. I've now read a number of his books, which were better than the first, and a kind friend recently lent me Information Reeeived, which really is very good indeed.

Information Received was the book that introduced Bobby Owen, who developed over the years into Punshon's most renowned series character. In his debut, he is a young constable, an Oxford graduate with a poor degree who, because of the economic slump, is not able to find a job other than at the lowest entry level in the police. But he's a keen and likeable guy, although interestingly he doesn't really "solve" the mystery here in the manner of a great detective.

The starting point is that a wealthy and unpleasant man decides to make substantial changes to his will. As with any character in a Golden Age detective novel, this is akin to signing his own death warrant.Within hours, he is found dead at home. Who has killed him? He has a daughter and step-daughter, and both women have keen suitors, while the cast of characters also includes a rascally solicitor (tut, tut) and a mysterious chap spotted near the scene of the crime.

There are some nice clues, especially involving theatre tickets, plus a number of very interesting plot complications. I was also struck by the nature of the social comment. Punshon was on the political left, and this comes across clearly. Anyone who tells you that Golden Age books were only written by a bunch of conservatives doesn't know what they are talking about. Sayers, whose politics were on the right, loved this book, although the American commentators Barzun and Taylor disliked it - I don't really know why. What I can say is that this is by far the best Punshon I've read to date, and I can recommend it.


J F Norris said...

Well, Punshon can be rather longwinded even though he is often good with his tantalizing plots. I can understand the negative reaction from Barzun & Taylor. Though I tend to agree with many of their raves I dislike when Barzun disparages a book for one of his many snobbish reasons. The author lacks an expertise in a foreign language (woe to anyone who doesn't know their French!), the writing is "feminine", the detection is sparse or utterly absent are his favorite disses. I usually find books that I heartily enjoy and recommend then discover that it either doesn't appear in Catalog of Crime or the writer gets short shrift. One of these days I'm going to do a post on the really good writers B&T never bothered with in COC.

Martin Edwards said...

It might be a long list, John! Anyway, I look forward to it. I have a soft spot for Barzun and Taylor, but despite their academic credentials, they were far from totally reliable. I have never got over their suggestion that Cranford, set in the town of my birth, was based in Ireland!

Ron Smyth said...

I don't agree with anyone all the time, not even myself.