Fri 30 Sep 2011
JOHN CREASEY – So Young, So Cold, So Fair. Dell #985, paperback, August 1958. Hardcover editions: Harper & Brothers, US, 1956, as Beauty Queen Killer; UK, Hodder & Stoughton, 1954, as A Beauty for Inspector West. Reprinted several other times in paperback, including Berkley F1095 (1965), and Pan-UK (1956).
I think I like the British title best, but the one they came up with for the Dell paperback, which is the one I just read, has a certain poetic ring to it. (It comes from the ballad “St. James Infirmary,” if it sounded familiar to you and couldn’t quite place it.)
I don’t usually read novels with serial killers in them, but this one sort of sneaked up on me, and I’d long since committed myself to it before I realized it.
Being killed, in methodical but not identical fashion – the killer being content to use any method that works – are the local district winners of a beauty contest being sponsored by a London soap company. And when the papers find out about it, their banner headlines make Inspector Roger “Handsome” West wish that maybe he was in another line of work.
There are a lot of clues to be followed up on, some of them straightforward, some of them contradictory, and it takes all of West’s efforts throughout the book to determine which is which. But this is no mere novel of detection. There are several action scenes every so often designed to pump up the reader’s interest, and very effectively, too.
Complicating matters somewhat is that West has been assigned an assistant copper he doesn’t particularly like, but since it happens that DI Turnbull saves West’s life early on in the tale, he’s forced to keep him on the case. A roving eye for the ladies is one of Turnbull’s flaws, and in this case, it’s one of the beauty queens who attracts his immediate attention, which makes her present two suitors, both suspects, as it turns out, rather annoyed. (It is hard to say which one over the other.)
So this is the story that Creasey does a fine job with, although in somehwat of a heavy-handed fashion. As a detective story, it is rather a straightforward one. It is difficult to say how he manages to keep his cards so well hidden that the killer comes as a surprise, and yet an obvious one, but he does.
Or at least I think so. Now that the book is finished, I might want to go back and see if it all holds together. But I won’t, simply because maybe it won’t. Hold together, that is. I’m going to leave well enough alone.