Friday, 11 July 2014

Forgotten Book - Where Every Prospect Pleases

Where Every Prospect Pleases, first published in 1933, is one of just two books that E.R. Punshon published under the name Robertson Halkett, and although it is hard to find, it's a thriller with one or two touches that (as is often the case with Punshon's work) lift it out of the ordinariness suggested by the title. Punshon was a prolific writer, and probably wrote too much, but at his best he was pretty good.

Much of the action takes place in Monaco, although in the later stages, it shifts a few miles, to the south of France. At the start of the story, Philip Hargreaves is visiting the grave of his older brother John, an inventor who is believed by the authorities to have shot himself after running up debts in the casino. Philip, a young and rather naive fellow, is at least shrewd enough to realise that this is a case where all is not as it seems, and he shows a dogged determination to find out the truth.

Soon he finds himself embroiled in a mysterious sequence of events. Befriended by a Lancastrian called Briggs, he discovers clues in his late brother John's effects that lead him to suspect that a man called Summerville knows something about what happened to John. A strange encounter with a hostile waitress in a tea room and the curious behaviour of a fellow guest at the place where John stayed before his death are precursors to Philip's discovery that something very sinister is afoot in the stunning area between the Mediterranean and the mountains.

Punshon also indulges his taste for the macabre. We don't associate Golden Age  mysteries with scenes set in orgies where eager guests are treated to whipping shows, blue movies, and much more besides, but they are all elements of the criminal's design in this book, believe it or not, although in keeping with the times, this lurid material is handled decorously, This book isn't a masterpiece, but it's certainly readable, perhaps more so than some of Punshon's more conventional mysteries. I was lucky to track it down, and if you have similar fortune, I don't think this lively thriller will disappoint you. The name Halkett, incidentally, appealed to me so much that I borrowed it for a macabre story of my own, "Mr Halkett's Hobby".

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