A review of Everybody Always Tells by E R Punshon – 230323
Surely one of the reasons that E R Punshon’s Bobby Owen series fell into undeserved obscurity is the poor choice of titles. Everybody Always Tells is not one that leaps off the book cover and demands that the reader invests some time in reading it. The title comes from Owen’s oft repeated, at least in this book, and somewhat optimistic view that eventually everybody tells the truth, but the auditor is to be alert enough to recognise when the truth is being told and about what.
This is the twenty-seventh outing for Bobby Owen, now an officer in the upper echelons of Scotland Yard, originally published in 1950 and now reissued by the inestimable Dean Street Press. It is remarkable to think that Punshon was in his late seventies when he wrote this and for that reason alone, he can be forgiven a certain formulaic feel to the structure of the book. There is the set-up, some detailed police procedural work, a review of the facts and theories garnered to date with Olive, Owen’s wife, operating as a sounding board and a more than diligent provider of direction, some more investigation, and then the denouement involving a dramatic set piece in which our hero puts himself in jeopardy to bring the case to its conclusion.
Bobby Owen will never be short of interesting cases while he is attached to the human crime magnet that is his wife. The book starts with the couple, Bobby more the reluctant bag carrier, bargain-hunting in a famous store when a necklace is placed in Olive’s handbag. The person who put the necklace there is identified as the eccentric aristocrat, Lord Newdagonby, and when Bobby visits him to find out why, he walks into a darker mystery. Newdagonby’s daughter, upon whom he dotes, has received several death threats. While Bobby is there, the alarm is raised and when the rescue party reach a room on the upper floor of a rabbit warren of an old pile, they find Newdagonby’s son-in-law, Ivor Findlay, in his death throes, having been stabbed. He dies soon afterwards. Why was he killed and not his wife?
This is a form of locked-room murder mystery and there are a bewildering number of clues and possible motives, some red herrings, but, in truth, precious few suspects. There is marriage infidelity, a splash of existentialism, a fixation on Byron, an invention that is likely to revolutionise the industrial process, the literal cutting edge of technology, thwarted ambitions, two peep holes cut at a certain height, a poker, and two missing guinea pigs, about which Bobby Owen is obsessed to the irritation of all he meets but which, rather like Holmes’ dog that did not bark, hold the clue to the mystery.
This is another book in which Punshon has created an intriguing female character. Mrs Findlay, Newdagonby’s daughter, is portrayed as a restless soul, who is in search of her real self. She spent eighteen months exploring being good but ultimately found that she was not getting anything out of religion and is now exploring her darker, wicked self. She is a character rich in potential and I felt that a more energetic Punshon from his earlier days might well have made more of her. Instead, he allows Owen to reveal to her her folly to dramatic effect. She rushes off only to find herself in a life-threatening predicament. Naturally, Bobby rushes to her rescue but the woman has undergone such a Damascene conversion that any hopes that our hero had of bringing the culprit to justice are smashed to smithereens.
This is a well-written, intriguing murder mystery, perhaps not Punshon at his very best, but a book that is worth a read.