I’m a sucker for old Penguin paperbacks. The logo, the typeface, the orange ness!
Whilst published by Penguin Books in 1964, the book was originally published in 1952. Some books do not age well, but this is a humorous, often gripping and charming story of High Court Judge, Mr Justice Prout, who through a bizarre, darkly comical and frankly unbelievable series of events, finds himself charged with the murder of a prostitute.
Circumstantial evidence (i.e. Justice Prout wakes up lying on top of the dead prostitute holding the hilt of a knife) points to the Judges guilt, indeed having no recollection of events, the Judge assumes that he must have done it. However, his extremely intelligent, enterprising and somewhat cynical daughter Elizabeth refuses to believe it and launches her own private investigation to reveal the truth and hopefully save her father from the gallows.
In this endeavour, Elizabeth employs the services of a gentlemanly master thief, Ambrose Low, after she sees through his extremely cunning and meticulously planned attempt to steal her father’s stamp collection.
Whilst the story involves murder, theft and prostitution it is in no way gritty or realistic. You would be happy to read this story to your grandma. That is not intended as a criticism of the style, which is intelligent and witty. The scenes in the High Court are real page turners and I was not surprised to learn after reading this book that Henry Cecil was a barrister and subsequently a County Court Judge.
The cast of characters, or maybe that should be caricatures, display qualities which define them throughout the book and helps to fix an image of them almost immediately. Colonel Brain is a cheerful but long-winded and often frustrating old soldier. Sydney Trumper is a devious, shady character but not overtly violent.
The efforts of Ambrose Low to find out the truth continue through the trial, despite the vast amounts of cash (well, for 1952 anyway) that Elizabeth gives him. He has to stretch his ingenuity to the limit in the hope of getting a breakthrough.
This is a very easy and witty read and I will be looking out for further Henry Cecil novels in the future. They are still in print which is a testament to a good story.