A review of Richardson Scores Again by Basil Thomson
It is heart-warming to see someone’s career take off. When we first encountered Richardson in Richardson’s First Case, Basil Thomson’s policeman was a lowly bobby on traffic point duty. He had a starring role in solving a ticklish case and so when we encounter him in this book, the second in the series, originally published in 1934 and now reissued by Dean Street Press, he is now a Detective Sergeant. Such a rapid rise at a time when length of time served rather than ability was the usual key to promotion is a surprise but Thomson who, in a colourful career, was Head of the Metropolitan Police’s Criminal Investigation Department during the First World War and so, presumably, knew his onions.
Rapid promotion is not without its perils and Richardson meets with some good-natured but envious comments from his colleagues, especially those he has passed by. However, in this case, as the title suggests, he more than proves his mettle, not only putting the ball in the net but doing so with some considerable aplomb.
Thomson’s modus operandi in writing a crime novel is to take a more procedural approach. In the wrong hands this can be the kiss of death because police investigation is generally dull as ditch water, requiring meticulous inquiries, checking alibis, and grubbing around for clues rather than relying on a flash of inspiration or a bit of genius which an amateur sleuth can indulge in. Fortunately, Thomson steers clear of all the obvious traps and constructs a well-written, entertaining, sometimes humorous novel, which is fairly clued, even with a relatively complicated plot. When he includes some police jargon, usually acronyms, he takes the trouble to decipher them when he first uses them.
Also known more prosaically as Richardson’s Second Case, one of the morals of the story is never leave a large amount of cash in your house or, if you do, never write a letter to your nephew telling him to stay the night as the house will be unguarded and detailing where you have hidden it. Nevertheless, this is what happens, but at least the uncle had the good sense to write his name on each of the notes.
The money, the proceeds from the sale of a farm, is stolen, the maid is killed in the process, and there are sufficient clues to think that the nephew was the culprit. He, though, claims that his wallet, in which he had kept the letter, had been stolen and that he had been arrested, although the officer turned out to be a fraud. Is there any truth in his story?
The second strand of the story features an aspiring politician who is causing a stir but when he is midway through a high-profile speech, he spots someone in the audience and faints. He is so shaken he goes into hiding in France What is that all about? Along the way we also have a spot of love interest and the loss of a highly prized parrot.
There are red herrings aplenty and initially the police treat the two main elements of the plot as separate investigations. It falls to Richardson to realise that these two seemingly disparate strands are part of the same crime and despite initial resistance from his more senior colleagues unearths a plot involving blackmail and assumed identities.
It is an enjoyable read, although it relies heavily on coincidences. On the basis of this success, Richardson is sure to rise even more quickly up the ranks.