A review of A Murder is Arranged by Basil Thomson
The eighth and last in Thomson’s Inspector Richardson series, A Murder is Arranged was originally published in 1937 and now reissued by Dean Street Press. I have found the series variable in quality but at least Thomson rounds off the Richardson saga in some style, albeit in his usual understated fashion. He died in 1939 and there is no sense in the text that this was going to be the last we would see of Richardson. I wonder, had he not died whether he would have written any more.
Richardson, from his elevated position of Chief Constable, once more directs operations, offering advice, tactical direction, but leaving his underlings, principally Inspector Dallas, to do the not inconsiderable leg work. Thomson takes the unusual step of deploying the lengthy progress reports that Dallas files to drive the narrative forward, interspersed with third party narrative of events that fall outwith the police investigation at the time. It may seem an odd approach, and the stilted officialese of the opening of each report can seem a bit stilted, but it seems to work. Thomson was a career policeman, heading up Scotland Yard’s CID section during the First World War, and the reports give some verisimilitude to the grind that is police work.
Some familiar themes can be found in this gripping tale which boasts a plot more intricate than Thomson’s standard fare. It is once more a story featuring Anglo-French police co-operation. Long gone, thankfully, is the little Englander attitude that so marred The Case of the Dead Diplomat, although Thomson cannot resist pointing out the differences between the two forces’ interrogation techniques and French officialdom’s susceptibility to a bribe. Dallas and Richardson, instead, are conscious of the expenses being racked up by Dallas’ sorties to France, but the two forces work well together.
Once again there is a mix of murder and robbery and a fashion house, themes those who have read Thomson will recognise. In essence, this is a country house murder mystery with a twist. Forge, the owner of Scudamore Hall, has, somewhat bizarrely, invited a motley crew of guests whom he has picked up in various hotels to celebrate Christmas with him. One, Margaret Gask, is found shot dead on Crooked Lane, the driveway to the stately pile, her mink coat has gone missing, and an infamous receiver of stolen property, Fredman, who appears to be associated with Gask, is also found murdered.
It appears that Forge’s guests are not as random as first appeared, each having their own particular reasons to avail themselves of his hospitality. Not everyone, including Forge’s staff are all they appear to be and we soon enter into a world of jewellery thieves, fences, fake monks and Italian prince, a murdered French senator, a Parisian fashion house which keeps losing its stock, false identities, duplicated car registration plates, metal boxes, a monastery used as a safe haven for stolen goods, and much more as investigations take place on both sides of the Channel.
The plot twists and turns until it reaches its inevitable conclusion. The police only have evidence strong enough to convict someone for the murder of Fredman, but that is enough. You can only hang once. Revealingly, there is a moral line in the world of the felon between good, “honest” robbery and dirty murder, a line that gave rise to the book’s alternative title, When Thieves Fall Out, The crossing of that particular Rubicon hastens the resolution of the case.
Thomson tells the story with workmanlike, honest prose which moves the story along, although there is little in the way of variation in pace and tone. It has its moments of humour and is an entertaining insight into police investigations and inter-force cooperation. It provides a good note to end a series that was worth persevering with.