What Beckoning Ghost? is a 1947 novel by Douglas G. Browne which features his regular detective character Harvey Tuke. Tuke, a senior official in the Department of Public Prosecutions, is invited along with his wife to a dinner party hosted by a couple called the Reaveleys. The host and hostess are connected with strange stories about the sighting of a ghost in Hyde Park, and shortly before the dinner party takes place, a homeless man who has seen the phantom is found dead in the Serpentine.
The dinner party is a tortured affair, with palpable tensions between several of the guests. Although Tuke learns more about the supposed ghost, the evening ends chaotically when Mrs Reaveley flounces out of her own party. Not long after that, she too is found dead - once again, drowned in the Serpentine. Has she committed suicide or been murdered? And what does the ghost of Hyde Park have to do with it?
This novel, rich in London atmosphere, is unusually structured, with several lengthy set-pieces - the dinner party, the inquest on the dead woman, and an underground chase. There are several nice touches, although one particular red herring is never explained, which I found irritating (or did I just miss the explanation? You never know....). Overall, though, this was a book that I really enjoyed.
Browne was a capable writer with a strong interest in true crime. He co-wrote the biography of the famous pathologist Sir Bernard Spilsbury, and part of the murder plot in this book is drawn from a real life precedent. This is a novel which was much debated by Detection Club members when they were deciding whether or not Browne should be elected to membership. The full story is told in the CADS Supplement Was Corinne's Murder Clued?, by Curtis Evans. Browne was indeed elected to membership. and I'd say deservedly so.
My copy of this book, which has a nice map on the endpapers of the London setting, belonged to Browne himself, and it includes a few tantalising margin notes made by him. The British Library's own copy of the book also has the map. But otherwise identical apparent first editions owned by two leading collectors who are friends of mine do not have the map. It's a bibliographic mystery, to which we don't have the solution. At all events, Browne was a writer who interests me, and I'll be writing again about him in the future. .