The second in a very long series of British police procedurals (sort of) with all the faded charm of their post-war era - quaint references to Brown Windsor soup and jam roly-poly, diggings and National Service, plus a seaside town with two piers which haven’t yet been burnt down, and tourists who arrive by train on Saturday for a week’s full board. There’s a certain interest in these little details even without the murder mystery.
Other aspects haven’t worn quite so well. The writing style is not quite up to snappy modern standards, and the characters are more like caricatures. Here’s the Scottish sea captain called in to tell the police his story: “We drappit down here owernight and fetchit up at Wylie’s before the toon was astir. I paid aff the crew bodies and saw them awa’ to the station, then I lifted the hatch and huiked out the cargo. He wasna in the best o’ shape, ye ken – it gi’es me a deal o’ consolation thinkin’ o’t – but I gar him ha’ a wash, whilk he did, and a swig at the borttle, whilk he didna, and betwixt doin’ the ain and not doin’ t’ither he was sune on his legs agin and marchin’ off doon the quay.” Got that? Good.
The plot, which starts off as a traditional body-on-the-beach, soon descends into fifties Iron Curtain paranoia, with a Trotskyite conspiracy, no less, and an over dramatic finale. Gently himself, the peppermint cream sucking detective, has his moments, but he is helped rather by just happening to go into a particular cafe, or see a particular car, or notice a particularly suspicious character, which chance event inevitably leads to the revelation of a Big Clue. And this particular plot was greatly helped by a significant character deliberately and voluntarily giving him a great deal of important information. I’m tempted to go for two stars, but in honour of the Brown Windsor soup and two piers, I’ll be generous. Three stars.