Tag Archives: E. R. Punshon

‘Crossword Mystery,’ by E. R. Punshon

I am, alas, rapidly losing my enthusiasm for E. R. Punshon’s Bobby Owen series of detective stories. I was delighted with the first entry in this classic 1930s English series, featuring young policeman Bobby Owen who, under the wry mentorship of his superior, Superintendent Mitchell, finds within himself the makings of a good crime solver.

What I liked about the first book, Information Received, was the emphasis on the characters of Bobby and Supt. Mitchell, an interesting and amusing interplay of minds. Sadly, the second book, which I reviewed further down the page here, had less of that. And this one, Crossword Mystery, though better in that regard, is still less a character story than a puzzle story. And the motivations and behavior of the criminals, as in previous books, are more like melodrama than a modern mystery story.

In this story, Bobby is sent to the majestic seaside home of Mr. George Winterton, an economic eccentric who’s writing a book on the Gold Standard. His brother, who lived across the bay from him, drowned recently under suspicious circumstances, and Mr. Winterton fears that it was murder, and that he himself is next. In between writing sessions, he’s working on a crossword puzzle about which he’s very secretive, and which proves to be the key to the mystery in the end.

The book’s all right. Well enough written, and nothing objectionable. But the story dragged for me, and the climactic scene was not very credible in a realistic story. I’m not sure I’ll continue following Bobby Owen’s career.

‘Death Among the Sunbathers,’ by E. R. Punshoh

Death Among the Sunbathers

Not long ago I gave high praise to E.R. Punshon’s first Bobby Owen mystery, Information Received. Death Among the Sunbathers is the second book in the series, and to speak frankly I was a little disappointed in it. However, I have reason to believe the series will find its feet again in the third book.

Despite its sensationalist title, Death Among the Sunbathers isn’t a racy story featuring a lot of naked people running about. The fictional sun-worshiping organization featured here is a pretty mild one where most of the members wear something like bathing suits most of time.

In this story, a young female newspaper reporter is murdered in an engineered automobile accident, and Superintendent Mitchell, whom we know well from Information Received, is on the scene in the victim’s last moments. This motivates him to give special attention to this crime. Bobby Owen, now promoted to Detective, is in the story, but mostly off stage. He dogs the criminals unseen, until they come to fear him as an inexorable, almost superhuman Nemesis.

This approach, in my opinion, doesn’t work as well as the amusing mentor/mentee relationship established between him and Superintendent Mitchell in the first book. Without that magic, the narrative here seems theatrical and artificial.

Also I figured out the Big Surprise well before the author revealed it.

But I shall press on with the series, in hopes that balance will be restored in the next installment.

‘Information Received,’ by E. R. Punshon

It’s a good day when I discover a mystery writer who a) I like, b) has a lot of books available, and c) comes cheap in Kindle format. And so I present to you, for the first time at Brandywine Books, the classic English detective novelist E. R. Punshon.

Punshon was admired by no less a figure than Dorothy Sayers, who saw his work as a positive development, helping to move the English mystery beyond the confines of the cozy “puzzle” story. Judging by Information Received, his first Bobby Owen mystery, she was correct. There’s a little more of real life here, and some fair psychology.

Constable Bobby Owen is a young London policeman, walking a beat. He actually attended Oxford, but his grades were lackluster, and so he sort of drifted into being a “bobby,” though he’s found the work pretty tedious thus far.

That all changes one day when he’s standing across the street from the home of a City magnate, Sir Christopher Clarke. Sir Christopher has been found shot to death, and Bobby gets just a glimpse of a man running away from the scene, though he can’t catch him.

Among the detectives who come in to look over the scene is Superintendent Mitchell, who takes a liking to the bright young policeman and allows him to help with the investigation. The motive seems unclear, the suspects seem to have little to gain, and means and opportunity are hard to sort out. But they work at it doggedly and in the end all his revealed.

The “fair psychology” I praised in this book does not apply to the murder itself, or the suspects, who are pretty melodramatic and not highly believable. But the relationship between Bobby and Supt. Mitchell is fascinating to follow. The older man guides Bobby, helps him sharpen his thinking, and exploits his talents, but all with a bemused and dryly playful air. He’s happy to give the young chap a career break, but he expects some entertainment along the way in the form of teasing him and testing his limits.

I enjoyed Information Received very much, and recommend it. I’d never heard of Punshon before I bought this book, but I’ve already bought the second work in the series.