It Might Lead Anywhere

It Might Lead Anywhere – E R Punshon

E R Punshon, a sadly neglected writer of detective fiction, had many strengths but coming up with a catchy and attention-grabbing title was not one of them. This has to be one of the naffest in all publishing history but, to be fair to him, it is a phrase his detective creation, Bobby Owen, does say several times when about to follow up another bewildering clue. Published originally in 1946 and now reissued for a modern readership to discover by the enterprising Dean Street Press, it is the twenty-second (out of thirty-five) in Punshon’s Bobby Owen series.

Although enjoyable, this is not one of Punshon’s best, not least because the plot is rather thin and, frankly, somewhat improbable and the list of likely culprits limited. On the plus side, these limitations do allow Punshon to develop the character of Owen more than he does in the other books of his that I have read. Even so, Owen is not a larger-than-life character with an enormous ego or one with eccentric traits, more of diligent and thorough pursuer of the truth, content to follow leads wherever they may take him. His modus operandi is to follow each lead and eliminate suspects until he arrives at the culprit and is able to explain the motivation behind the crime.

This is what the book is full of, alibis are established and checked, statements are taken and corroborated. It might seem dull fare, as dull as the spam-laden menu Owen peruses in a restaurant, but Punshon has the good sense to keep the narrative moving at pace and manages to construct an intriguing enough case from relatively unpromising material.

Punshon is good at creating atmosphere and I enjoy picking up on the realities of life in the dog days of the Second World War; rationing, even of petrol for police officers, food shortages and unimaginative menus, the intricacies of the blackout regulations. Owen’s long-suffering wife, Olive, makes several fleeting appearances, playing the role of a sounding board for some of Owen’s theories as his investigations progress and not averse to throwing in some suggestions of her own. Somewhat to Owen’s surprise, she takes umbrage when he informs her that a pretty girl involved in the case had fluttered her eyelashes at him and he cannot understand why. For a keen observer of human traits and characteristics, he can be somewhat obtuse when it comes to his nearest and dearest.

Although it is not in his manor, Owen breaks up a kerfuffle at a meeting at which Duke Dell, a former boxer, is preaching about what he calls The Vision. Although Alfred Brown is an adherent of Dell’s, the boxer throws him into the river with such force that his head bleeds. The next day Brown is found dead at his home, having been beaten with a poker. Owen persuades the local Chief Constable to allow him to take charge of the case and as he proceeds, he finds that the case is not as cut and dried as it may have seemed, despite Dell’s eccentricities, and that there are other reasons for Brown meeting his maker much earlier than anticipated.

Inevitably, Owen makes sense of it all and justice is done. I cannot help thinking the book reflects the state of England at the time it was published, exhausted, weary, and waiting for a new lease life. I hope Punshon gets his enthusiasm back in time for Owen’s next adventure.   

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