Although I didn’t contribute to Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books when I was sailing in the Med last Friday, I was busy at the time sitting in the sun and devouring a minor classic of the past which deserves to be highlighted this week.
Rupert Penny is a British writer who flourished briefly just before, and at the start of, the Second World War. He wrote convoluted puzzle stories in the best traditions of classic Golden Age detective fiction – and then he disappeared from sight (at least as a crime writer – a lover of flowers as well as ciphers and puzzles, he spent time working in Bletchley and he later became a doyen of the British Iris Society.)
Penny’s books were published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, but have become very scarce and expensive. Happily, that excellent publisher Ramble House has brought out several of his books, and supplied my copy of The Lucky Policeman. Suffice to say that it is the most enjoyable Penny novel I have read so far.
The set-up is excellent. An American shrink, Hilary Peake, has come to England and set up a private asylum (oddly, to my mind, it only has two patients, one of whom plays no effective part in the mystery, rather dashing one of my own theories about the puzzle.) When Simon Selby escapes from his quarters and disappears, we are presented with a variant on the ‘locked room’ concept, but matters take a more serious turn when a series of murders take place in the New Forest nearby. The local police are duly baffled, and send for Penny’s regular detective, the likeable Inspector Beale. Beale, as usual (although inexplicably) is accompanied by his pal and personal Watson, Tony Purdon, though Tony doesn’t play much of a part in the story.
There is a direct challenge to the reader to guess what has happened – shades of Ellery Queen and C.Daly King. I confess that I fell for Penny’s red herrings and got the solution wrong .The explanation for the mystery is cunning, if inevitably far-fetched and all in all this was wonderful holiday reading. Ramble House deserve heartfelt congratulations for making this lost classic available to modern puzzle fans at a very reasonable price.