Sunday, August 14, 2016

Review: A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

by Mary

Published in 1940 and set in London during the blackout, A Scream in Soho opens with the introduction of protagonist Inspector Patrick Aloysius McCarthy of Scotland Yard. Of Italian-Irish extraction, he was born and raised in Soho and still lives there in Dean Street.

Late one evening, then, McCarthy is sitting in a Soho eatery known as Café Milano -- the story of how it opened for business reveals a great deal about his temperament and methods -- waiting to have supper with Assistant Commissioner of Police Sir William Haynes. They talk of spies, local residents, and malefactors in general and on parting McCarthy tells Haynes he is off to bed and will not get out of it again for anybody.

But in fact he does, after the titular scream rings out from Soho Square an hour or so later. Hastily donning slippers and throwing an overcoat over his night wear, he rushes in that direction forgetting his torch but remembering his gun. By an amazing bit of luck for the authorities, a fire in a nearby house breaks out, lighting up the square and allowing a search. The lintels and pillars of the porch of an old house in the square are "painted in a deep green, but the door itself was spotless white—except where both lintel and lower panels were liberally bedaubed with blood, some of which still slowly trickled down..." Left behind: a bloodstained three-edged stiletto and a woman's lace-edged handkerchief. But the victim has been spirited away despite the fact McCarthy and the bobby on the local beat arrived on the scene within two minutes of hearing the scream. However, they do later discover a body -- a constable placed on guard behind the house with the bloodstained door.

So begins a mystery-thriller that rollicks along, featuring more deaths, a West End pickpocket, an Austrian baroness who regularly consults a crystal gazer, a gang boss/police informant with an extremely nasty manner and a beautiful girlfriend, a lady with a striking secret, the seemingly impossible theft of important papers, colourful personalities on the wrong side of the law, and much more.

My verdict: A Scream In Soho features an almost amiable narration despite occasional lively scenes of fisticuffs. In a tangled case set in a colourful millieu, the novel surprises readers with a striking twist or two and its dialogue is often imbued with humour despite its grim topic. Having enjoyed my introduction to Brandon I shall keep an eye open for further of his works.

A Scream in Soho is one of the British Library Crime Classics reprinted by Poisoned Pen Press

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting. I had not heard of this author before.