I’d never heard of this book until I bought it. I’m at that stage where I’ve come to the conclusion that I will read everything Norman Berrow wrote, but I haven’t quite memorized the full catalogue to be purchased. I’m familiar enough with the names and covers of most of the books that I haven’t bought yet, but I don’t ever recall seeing The Lady’s in Danger.
Berrow isn’t one of those authors that you can find for cheap. Although you might get lucky on a 1970’s edition of Ghost House, the rest of his catalogue is only accessible via the Ramble House reprints, and you can either pay $20 for those brand spank’n new, or you could for some reason pay $40 for them used on eBay (I’ll never understand how that’s a workable model). Anyway, I was building up a holiday gift list for myself (and you should do the same – a friend would much prefer buying you a novel you want than gambling on that novel wine opener), and I stumbled upon The Lady’s in Danger for $6 new on Amazon. Fast forward through me falling out of my chair and breaking my mouse while pounding the Buy button. This must have been some chance bargain, because when I checked minutes after my purchase, the only price I could find for the book was back to $20.
So, thanks to some quirk in the system, I’m reviewing Berrow’s penultimate mystery. Although… I don’t know that it’s a full on mystery of the sort that you and I typically read. This is more in caper territory – think maybe The Punch and Judy Murders or The Devil Drives – where a character is jostled down some unpredictable rabbit hole, without the typical structure of a whodunnit. Now, those two examples that I just provided are better books than this – because they’re both incredible, mind you, not a criticism on this one – and The Lady’s in Danger not much of a novel of detection. I’m pretty sure much the same outcome would have occurred regardless of any investigation that the reader observes. Still, this is a fun ride, and Berrow provides one of the better voices of the Golden Age in his writing.
An American private investigator is wrapping up some business in England when he stumbles upon a woman being attacked (actually, I suppose she literally stumbles on him). The lady is the heiress to an immense fortune, and she’s recently been the target of several kidnapping attempts. Her family hires the PI to protect her.
What follows is laced with murders, country houses, backwater villages, and an awful lot of getting knocked out. Although there are murders, this isn’t your conventional mystery because it isn’t about a closed circle of suspects. Rather, it’s a matter of preventing some mysterious outsider from getting at the heiress. I suppose that puts this in thriller territory, but Berrow does somehow make it feel very much like a GAD read.
Unfortunately there’s no impossible crime or anything of that vein, but I enjoyed my time nonetheless. It’s an engrossing story and read somewhat like Rupert Penny’s The Lucky Policeman or Philip MacDonald’s The List of Adrian Messenger. Berrow lightens things up with a comic undercurrent concerning the various misunderstandings that happen between an American on a first trip to England and the rural occupants of a small village. Your mileage may vary, but I enjoyed that bit.
There’s some cleverness come the end, although I imagine most readers will have predicted some of it. Again, this isn’t quite your conventional mystery structure, but Berrow brings things together nicely, and there were some earlier scenes in the book that clicked nicely into place.
I suspect this is mostly a book for Norman Berrow completists. That’s not because it isn’t good – in fact it was a really nice read – but because it’s one of those plots that you don’t think you want to read until you’ve read it. And so maybe in that sense, this is the perfect gift to receive – something you’ll enjoy that you didn’t bother buying yourself.