Light and fun…
In my last review of a Henrietta Hamilton book, I expressed hope that Agora Books would continue re-issuing her books. And not only have they done so, they’ve even managed to acquire the rights to some of her previously unpublished books, including this one, The Man Who Wasn’t There, which is part of her Sally and Johnny Heldar series. As Hamilton’s nephew, Nick Shepherd, mentions in his short introduction, the order of the books in the series is a bit uncertain, but the best guess seems to be that this is the third in the series. Regardless of series order, though, I was pleased to be offered an advance review copy, and to have a chance to retreat for a while into an easy-to-read mystery with lots of period details about England and France during and shortly after World War II.
As the story opens, Sally and Johnny get pulled into the goings-on by Johnny’s young cousin, Tim. Tim, who is really more like a younger brother to Johnny, is worried about his girlfriend, Prudence Thorpe. Prue is nineteen, but until recently she has been coddled by her wealthy parents, and doesn’t have much experience of the world. After completing a secretarial course at Mrs. Wisbech’s, however, she has obtained a part-time position as secretary to an author and diabolist, Adolphe Frodsham. It quickly becomes clear that Frodsham is not a nice character, but although Tim tries to get her to leave her post (and agree to marry him), Prue doesn’t want to give up her newly won independence. Then Frodsham is found dead, and matters accelerate from there, with missing guns, doubtful alibis, red herrings, and a nice twist or two leading to the final solution. Hamilton played fair with her clues, so I kind of thought I knew whodunnit, but I doubted myself right up to the end.
If I have a complaint to make about The Man Who Wasn’t There, it’s that I felt a little bit guilty after reading it – as if I had secretly eaten a really big candy bar, and ended up on a sugar high. Although Hamilton does write about how difficult things were during the war, and the victim, as mentioned above, is an unpleasant type, even perhaps a criminal, Sally and Johnny seem to live a pretty charmed life in post-war England. They have a “daily”, Mrs. Williams, who not only manages to keep their household running smoothly, but is almost always ready to babysit Peter in the off-hours, so Sally and Johnny can go off detecting. (And how does Mrs. Williams manage to conveniently live next door, even in a basement flat, on a daily’s wages? I’m not implying anything illegal – just that it seems part and parcel of Sally and Johnny’s somewhat-too-easy life…)
All-in-all, though, I don’t require that all of my reading-for-pleasure books have to have deeper meanings, and I quite enjoyed The Man Who Wasn’t There for what it was – a fun bit of escapism. I’ll definitely be looking forward to reading others in the series. Finally, please keep in mind that I don’t give many 5-star ratings, which I keep for truly exceptional books. So for me, a 4-star rating is a “read-this-book” recommendation. And my thanks again to Agora Books and NetGalley for the advance review copy!