Friday, May 27, 2016
Friday Forgotten (or Overlooked) Book: FOUR STRANGE WOMEN (1940) by E. R. Punshon
A rather strange book aptly titled, I think. Not in the same class as Christie or the other fine writers of the Golden Age, but still a book that intrigues. It is a dark tale in which terrible crimes occur but perhaps it is the theatrical improbability of it all that appealed to me. I can't quite say why I liked it so much, but I did. The whole idea of an unknown femme fatale driving men to their doom inspires a kind of macabre fun.
British author E.R. Punshon wrote quite a few Bobby Owen mysteries and this the fourteenth in the series. Several of the books are currently available as ebooks over at Amazon and that's where I happened onto them. Though I must say that nowhere in this book does the character of Bobby Owen come alive as a 'real' person or for that matter, an especially clever one. But for whatever reason, that didn't stop me being intrigued by this morbid tale of murder which begins cozily enough.
'The fortunate conclusion of a recent semi-private investigation on which he [Bobby Owen]had been engaged had put money in his pocket, won him influential friends, and gained him the promise of an appointment as inspector in the Wychshire country force with special duties as private secretary to the elderly Colonel Glynne, and with the additional prospect, therefore, of some day succeeding him as chief constable.'
So here we are immediately lulled into believing that a cozy set of circumstances will be coming right up. But we would be wrong. Little does the complacent Bobby Owen know as he strolls along on his way home from an evening out with his fiancee Olive, that that very night he will be drawn into a shocking and most mysterious case.
'...he opened his sitting-room. One of the ugliest men he had ever seen was there and got up as he entered. A low forehead; a long, crooked nose; a mouth framing teeth too widely separated and irregular in shape, and stretching, it seemed, almost from ear to ear; ears themselves enormous and standing out nearly at right angles; eyes small and hidden, indeterminate in colour, the left eye with a cast in it; all combined with a squat, ungainly figure and sprawling hands and feet to produce an effect so remarkable that Bobby found himself reflecting that fingerprints would hardly be required for identification if the Records Department at the Yard knew anything of him.'
Unlikely as it may seem, the unattractive late night caller is Lord Darmoor, a man concerned with the mysterious deaths of two acquaintances and the likely possibility that a third friend might be in danger.
FOUR STRANGE WOMEN (love that title) is, in essence, a serial killer book written at a time when such a thing didn't even have a name. It is also a book in which the serial killer is a woman, another odd thing for its time. (Though I'll bet that in reality such a thing was not unknown.) Look, I'm not revealing any real secrets, it's obvious to any mystery reader almost from the very beginning that this book is all about 'cherchez la femme.'
Punshon is not, it seems to me, a natural writer so his work can get a little clumsy, but not to the point of making you want to put it down (at least it didn't with me) because he has a good story to tell. Here's a case where cleverness of plot plus mood equals a good read even if the writing is not brilliant.
Detective-Sergeant Bobby Owen is called into a very odd case when an unlikely couple come to his lodgings and spin him a most peculiar tale. Two men (one with a title) have already died under suspicious circumstances and a third is likely in danger. The circumstances leading up to the deaths are similar though the police regard most of it as coincidence. However, once Owen begins nosing around, it becomes obvious that something foul is amiss. And when a third nasty death does occur, Owen is convinced that there's a fourth coming up unless the police can get to the bottom of the mystery and quickly.
As I indicated, this story features a most unlikely set of circumstances which include a remarkably heartless killer who is all things to all men in a very peculiar and hypnotic way. (Maybe you have to be a man to get it.) Again, suspension of disbelief is called for and even if you can't quite believe what's happening, there's something yet alluring about this dark tale of murderous greed and moral vacuousness (not to mention the foolhardiness of men) which kept me reading late into the night.
Dorothy L. Sayer was a fan of Punshon, I understand. Maybe I'll be one too.
Since it's Friday, don't forget to check in and see what other forgotten or overlooked books other bloggers are talking about today over at Todd Mason's blog, Sweet Freedom. Todd is doing hosting duties this week for Patti Abbott.
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New writer for me too - always interesting when such books become available again, so maybe one day ... Thanks Yvette.ReplyDelete
Definitely worth your time, Sergio. I admit that some of the little known books recently available should have remained 'little known' (i.e. John Rowland's MURDER IN THE MUSEUM or those by Harriet Rutland) but others, like this one by Punshon are worth a look. Certainly you can't beat the price.Delete
I've been looking for something different and you just may have found it for me.ReplyDelete
Yes, Pat - this is a cozy with a difference. You'll see what I mean. :)Delete
Intriguing. Not a book I might have selected on my own, but your review has tempted me.ReplyDelete
Well, as I mentioned, you can't beat the price that's for sure. I like to take a flyer every now and then when I see these unknown authors show up on Kindle.Delete
Sounds like THE BRIDE WORE BLACK. Is it money or revenge that motivates this killer?ReplyDelete
You selected two passages of extremely long run-on sentences which is death for me. One thing I really dislike about Punshon is his antiquated writing style and penchant for interminably long sentences that go on for entire paragraphs. Sometimes the entire page! I've read three but one I couldn't finish so I guess that means I've read only two. Of those the one I thoroughly enjoyed was DIABOLIC CANDELABRA. Don't know if that one was reprinted yet, but it's a book I always recommend for anyone interested in trying Punshon because it is truly an original and very spooky detective novel. Reviewed at my blog, but I go into such detail about the weird plot that it might be considered spoiler filled. Best to read that one not really knowing much about it. If you like the mood of a dark fairy tale, multiple eerie settings, and truly bizarre characters, then it's right up your alley.
Money. Money. Money makes the world go round AND a love of jewels. (Again I'm not really giving much away here.) Well, spooky is a good way to describe FOUR STRANGE WOMEN as well, John. Give it a try despite the long running sentences. Must admit, I didn't notice the long running-ness of it all. I just liked the preposterous bent of the story. I'll look for DIABOLIC CANDELABRA. I'm currently reading THE BITTERMEADS MYSTERY by Punshon and liking it, yet again, for its preposterous take. This sort of stuff appeals to me I suppose. I like the hairy hero. :)Delete
Dean Street Press Kindle and paper versions of Diabolic Candelabra which I am introducing will be available soon.Delete
Great review, Yvette. Punshon does have a rather verbose writing style, but I find it kind of endearing. He has a distinctive personality as a writer. The grimness and, yes, strangeness of this book greatly appealed to me.
You've hit the nail right on the head, P.T. '...endearing. He has a distinctive personality as a writer.' Thinking back on the book, I actually like it even more now.Delete
I have heard of this author here and there. Sometime I will have to try one of the books from this series. You make this one sound quite attractive. Unfortunately I would want a paper copy which will cost me more.ReplyDelete
Oh, I would much rather get my hands on a 'real' book myself, Tracy. But Kindle is a good way to get to know authors for 99 cents and THEN you can begin gathering the hardcopies. I used to think myself well read in the mystery field, but in these past few years of blogging I'm realizing that there were so many, many writers whose books I overlooked. Still, I'm fast catching up. I hope. :)Delete
Yvette, I may have a problem with the writing style and the long-winding sentences, as John noted above. Still, it's not right for me to judge a book based on just that. My rule is to read at least one or two books by an author — if I like them I read more, if not, well, that's the end of it. I'm becoming a picky reader, I think!ReplyDelete
Life is too short to read bad books, Prashant! :) Picky is good.Delete
Yoiks, I know a woman like this, tho I don't believe she's killed anyone--yet. I might should take a look at Punshon, and maybe start with Four Strange Women!ReplyDelete
Well, read at your own risk, Mathew. Ha! I can imagine that a woman like the one depicted in the book might be a bit fatiguing to be around. :)Delete
Your posting underscores exactly what I like about the book-blogging community. You're highlighted an author I have never heard about -- shame on me, I guess -- and now I can begin the search for the book you've so generously reviewed. Thanks!ReplyDelete
All the best from the U.S. Gulf coast and Past Perfect Murders.
I'd never heard of him either, Tim. But that's what I like about Kindle - you can often find unknown writers worth reading for practically no money. Can't beat that deal. :) I'm currently reading my third E.R. Punshon and enjoying it.Delete