Friday 1 March 2024

Forgotten Book - Strip Death Naked

Strip Death Naked, first published in 1959, is a rather odd murder mystery. The author, Norman Longmate, worked for the BBC as a senior administrator, but wrote in his spare time. A versatile author, he was best-known as a historian, several of whose books achieved considerable acclaim. He wrote five detective novels in as many years, starting with Death Won't Wash in 1957; the first four were published by Cassell, and the fifth by Robert Hale, a sign of declining fortunes, which is probably why he abandoned the genre.

As the title hints, the setting of the story is a naturist camp. More than twenty years earlier, a nudist colony featured in E.R. Punshon's Death among the Sunbathers, a pretty dreary mystery by any standards, and the weakest Punshon that I've read. Punshon tackled naturism satirically and yet in a rather decorous way. Longmate's writing reflects the attitudes of the late 50s. In other words, it's much franker and less twee than Punshon's book, but by modern standards old-fashioned and in some respects sexist.  

Longmate's series detective, Superintendent Bradshaw, is consulted when patrons of Sunways are photographed naked and the photos are sent to their employers. This happens on several occasions over a period of time, but somehow a great Press scandal is avoided. A small group of potential suspects is identified and when they conveniently stay at Sunways at the same time, Sergeant Chris Raymond is sent to join the happy campers and investigate.

Longmate writes pretty well and there are some good touches in this story. The pace doesn't flag and a key aspect of the killer's M.O. is very fairly clued. However, I simply didn't believe the motive, which I didn't think was properly foreshadowed, and the killer's objective could have been achieved much more easily by adopting a more direct approach. And that wasn't the only aspect of the story that I simply couldn't buy into. Overall, I'd rate this novel as a curiosity, more notable for reflecting social attitudes of the time (a subject that Longmate was very interested in) than for its eventful yet somewhat wayward plot.

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