My latest entry in Patti Abbot’s series of Forgotten Books comes from the pen of the late Colin Watson. For many people, Watson’s name is most closely associated with his study of Golden Age fiction, Snobbery with Violence, a jolly good book if rather meandering. But I think his best work came in The Flaxborough Chronicles.
Julian Symons reckoned that Hopjoy Was Here was the best entry in the Chronicles, featuring Watson’s regular cop, Inspector Purbright. The book was first published in 1962, and spoofs early James Bondery, along with a teasing mystery about the disappearance of a lodger named Hopjoy – has he been hammered to death and then had his body dissolved in acid?
The story enjoyed a new lease of life when the Flaxborough books were televised as Murder Most English with the late Anton Rodgers playing Purbright in the late 1970s. My paperback edition is a tie-in from that time, although I didn’t get to watch the show, and I don’t know how good it was. It only ran for one series, comprising seven episodes.
You get a flavour of the Watson style from the opening paragraph:
‘Never before had the inhabitants of Beatrice Avenue seen a bath carefully manoeuvered through one of their front doors, carried down the path by four policemen, and hoisted into a black van. Everybody watched, of course….A postman was frozen in silent contemplation five doors farther up. A butcher’s boy and two window cleaners huddled in temporary comradeship with a rate collector on the opposite kerb…Twenty or more children, mysteriously summoned by their extra-sensory perception of odd goings-on…savoured the affair with the discrimination of experts, comparing it with…last summer’s impaling of the greengrocer’s horse, and the wonderful, blood-chilling entertainment in Gordon Road the previous Easter when Mrs Jackson had gone bonkers and thrown all the portable contents of the house…down upon some men from the council.’
What lover of English mysteries could resist reading on?