8 March 2015

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

Venturing into the world of British crime classics is new for me and one I am thoroughly enjoying.  Beginning with Mystery in White last Christmas, a gift for my husband that was promptly  borrowed as soon as it arrived, something tells me I'll eventually own a whole shelf of these entertaining British Library reprints.

Now I must admit that it was mention of the blackouts of World War II that made me so keen to read A Scream in Soho.  Set during the early days of the war the toppled buildings, sandbags, sirens, and rationing have yet to materialize so I was ever so slightly disappointed it wasn't quite the atmosphere I was expecting.  And then I got over it, settled in, and let the story unfold.

Inspector Patrick Aloysius McCarthy of Scotland Yard is the sort of officer who isn't beyond bending a few rules to get the job done.  His mind is continuously on the job with next to no allowances for frivolity of any kind.  Swirling around the Italian caf√©s and streets of Soho is an undercurrent of  surveillance between various mob groups and the law; some in suits while others walk the beat.  The Soho-Italians feature prominently with Austrians and naturalized Germans their partners in crime. After a long night Inspector McCarthy is ready to collapse into bed but hears a scream travel along the still roads.  Still in his pyjamas, McCarthy rushes out of his building to investigate...

'The two worn wells in the centre of the old stone steps were literally little pools of blood which had splashed as far as the ornamental fencing, fronting stone steps which again led down to a basement.  Turning the sergeant's torch down there, McCarthy let out a gasp, and before anyone realized what he was at had darted down the steps to pick gingerly a three-edged stiletto, the blade of which was thick with blood!'

The lack of modern day forensics was something that jumped out at me when McCarthy places the blade and a bit of handkerchief in his pocket for safekeeping.  Another moment occurs during a panic-filled phone call by McCarthy to Scotland Yard on what would have been a rotary phone before the days of 999.  There are a few other things such as some very un-politically correct terminology and references to women that date this book but none of it should come as a surprise to anyone with an interest in the era.  Or for those of us who thought heaven was a Sunday afternoon spent watching a black and white film on an outrageously small screen in a massive cabinet.  I digress.

A Scream in Soho is wonderfully entertaining and even taught me a thing or two about this area's fairly recent history.  I laughed while watching Call the Midwife last weekend when Fred mentioned 'the Italians in Soho'...references are everything!  And it will make residents of London groan to know that in the 40s a really swish flat full of windows overlooking Park Lane went for £1,500 a year.  But what is going on in that flat between the man with the icy blue eyes and the beautiful Tessa Domenico?

A terrific romp featuring a taste of noir with a colourful cast of characters.  What's not to like about that, I ask you!


6 comments:

  1. I read one of these British Library mysteries (and with that pedigree, who wouldn't?) as one of the free ebooks available with Amazon Prime, and hoped they'd offer more of them, but it was just a tease... I like the sound of this one!

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    1. Cosy fun, Audrey! I couldn't binge on this series but the odd retro mystery thrown in to switch gears is just the thing sometimes.

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  2. So glad you loved it. And there are so many more for you to enjoy. Your shelf of BL Classic Crimes will be a visual delight too, with those gorgeous covers!

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    1. And I am all too easily swayed by a fetching cover. Thanks for spreading the word about this series, Harriet!

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  3. I love British mysteries and you have now given me another title to add to my TBR list!

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    1. Just feast your eyes on the cover art for this series, Sunday! The title I'm keen to read next is Murder Underground...hopefully there will be a little less testosterone in that one!

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