Friday, January 13, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books: BODIES IN A BOOKSHOP (1946) by R.T. Campbell

Today is Forgotten Book Friday, the weekly meme hosted by Patti Abbott at her blog, PATTINASE I'm killing two birds with one stone as my entry is BODIES IN A BOOKSHOP by R.T. Campbell and since it was written in 1946, it also qualifies for my Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge - ta-da! The Challenge is hosted by Bev at her blog, MY READER'S BLOCK.

Head on over to Patti's to see what other Forgotten Books other bloggers are talking about today, then head on over to Bev's to see how the Vintage Mysteries Reading Challenge is coming along and maybe you might even want to sign up.

From the back of my copy of BODIES IN A BOOKSHOP:

At the time of the Second World War, Scottish-born poet, scholar, art critic and fantasy novelist Ruthven Campbell Todd (1914 - 1978) wrote a series of detective novels, using the pen name R.T. Campbell. Todd soon abandoned detective fiction for other literary projects and was quickly - but unjustly  - forgotten as a mystery novelist.

I'd never heard of him, for sure. That is until I read a review of this book on one of the blogs. But damn if I can remember which one. John was it you? Or maybe Bev? Or maybe Les Blatt at CLASSIC MYSTERIES?

At any rate, I found a used copy of a Dover reprint and plunged right in because the title said it all for me. Murder and bookshops go great together.

Max Boyle is a young botanist and book lover who stumbles over two dead bodies in a back room of a dusty old bookshop on the Tottenham Court Road in London. He'd been hunting books not bodies and had actually spent about an hour in the store before realizing that something was not quite right. For the book lover out on a book buying trip, concentration is definitely focused.

Max works for a curious old codger, an eccentric crime solving botanist and criminologist (an odd combo I'd have thought), named John Stubbs. 'The Professor' as he's known is full of  the sort of Gideon Fell and Gervase Fen high spirits used to better effect by both John Dickson Carr and Edmund Crispin. He is a total eccentric given to drinking copious amounts of beer and smoking a foul smelling pipe. He speaks in dialect annoyingly spelled out by the author for no good reason I can think of.

"That's fine," Professor Stubbs put in suddenly, "I'm beginnin' to think I could do wi' some moisture. I'm dehydratin' fast."  See what I mean? A little of that goes a long way.

That's my only problem with the characters and the story which is actually a tight little mystery filled with a whole cast of suspicious characters, including book dealers, a blackmailer and a dealer or two involved in the buying and selling of pornographic material which, by the way, was then against the law in England.

Max Boyle himself is a nice enough bloke, an amiable, unassuming associate all the while trailing after the Professor and wishing he were on holiday in the Scilly Islands. He tells the story in the first person which helps things along.

The third character of this crime-solving triumvirate is known as The Bishop, he is Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop of Scotland Yard. With his help, both the Professor and Max set out to solve a double murder. Or perhaps I should say that with Scotland Yard's unlikely help, the Professor sets out to solve the double murder. The Bishop often seems a well-mannered, calm and bemused bystander rather than the official lead in a murder investigation. The Professor's histrionics can be quite intimidating, I suppose.

Though I easily figured out who the killer was the story was still enjoyable and part of the final denouement was still a surprise.

This is a straight  if somewhat anachronistic, detective whodunit which takes place in the rarefied world of book dealers and collectors and as such, there's plenty for the reader to learn about old books and collecting and even bits about old prints.

An entertaining and literate mystery.


  1. I like Prof Stubbs. He reminds me of Henry Merrivale and I'm sure that was Todd's inspiration. R T. Campbell is in reality Ruthven Todd. (I think it says that on the rear of your Dover edition which I have somewehre in one of the many boxes in my house.) He's better known as a poet, biographer and the author of a series of kid's books about Space Cat. I keep looking for three of his other mystery novels with little luck. It's turning into a something like the hunt for the Holy Grail. Where'd they all go?

  2. I put all that(about his being Ruthven Todd) in my post, John. Really, you have to start reading my posts and not just gliding through. HA!

    You have to keep hitting the old and decrepit book stores in your area. :)

  3. Oops. Caught again. I admit the ONLY part I skipped was the italics below the line "From the back of my copy..."

  4. Busted!

    But seeing that it's you, John. You're forgiven. :)

  5. I don't know if you saw it on my blog or not...but I did a "Vintage Mystery Sunday" feature on this one last year. I love this book. I love that it's about a bookshop. And, like John, I look for his other books with no success (although I did read one of the other ones--Unholy Dying, I think without looking at my list of books read).

    glad you enjoyed it!

  6. I'm crazy about mysteries set in bookshops as well. This is one of the better ones. I like that I learned quite a bit of book lore while reading BODIES IN A BOOKSHOP.

    It might have been on your blog, Bev. My memory fails. As usual. :)

  7. Must admit I don't know this one. I should. There aren't as many bookstores now along the Tottenham Court Road - the mystery bookstore that was there closed down, alas! - but I spent a fair amount of time on my infrequent visits to London browsing happily through the stores...perhaps I should have checked out the back rooms looking for bodies?

  8. Oh, wouldn't that be something? Ha! I don't think the reality of finding a body in a bookshop would be as much fun. But still, it would make for an adventure...

    Les, can't believe you don't know this one. :)

  9. I enjoy books about books in general and this one sounds like a fun read!

  10. Oh, it definitely is, Sharon. I think you'd enjoy it. I love books about books as well.


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