Wed 15 May 2013
R. T. CAMPBELL (Ruthven Todd) – Bodies in a Bookshop. John Westhouse, UK, hardcover, 1946. Dover, US, softcover, 1984.
For bibliophiles, Bodies in a Bookshop is pure enjoyment. The first chapter is full of love for books, and later chapters have insights into book- and print-selling and collecting. The story is well-structured, often amusing, and fairly clued.
What is most interesting to me, however, is the amateur detective, Professor John Stubbs. He is an imitation of Carr’s Sir Henry Merrivale, with a bit of Dr. Gideon Fell thrown in. Stubbs is called “the old man”; he drinks copious quantities of beer; he resembles “a caricature of G. K. Chesterton trying to look like Buddha”; and, like Fell, he has a “mop of gray hair” which falls over his forehead. When he is concentrating he “frowns at the point of his cigar.” If Stubbs’ appearance combines Merrivale and Fell, his speech and attitude are pure H. M.:
“I got the simple mind I have.”
“The shockin’ cussedness of luck.”
“Oi,” the old man sounded and looked furious, “What d’ye mean by goin’ round arrestin’ people wi’out consultin’ me?”
“Look here,” he roared indignantly, “me, I got the scientific mind… Ye thunderin’ well know ye’re wrong.”
“What do I get? ” He looked round at us with an expression that he was the worst treated man in the world. “Do I get any thanks? No! All they say is that I’ve tried all the possible answers and I’ve found the right one. They say I got luck. I say I got brains. Bah!”
Even the “large and bland” Chief Inspector is a Carrian character. None of this works quite as well as Carr at his best, but I am busily trying to locate more adventures of Professor Stubbs.
The Prof. John Stubbs series —
Unholy Dying. Westhouse, 1945.
Adventure with a Goat. Westhouse, 1946.
Bodies in a Bookshop. Westhouse, 1946.
The Death Cap. Westhouse, 1946.
Death for Madame. Westhouse, 1946.
Swing Low, Swing Death. Westhouse, 1946.
Take Thee a Sharp Knife. Westhouse, 1946.
Only the first and third of these have been published in the US, both in paperback by Dover Books. Campbell also wrote one non-Stubbs mystery: Apollo Wore a Wig (Westhouse, 1946). Other than the two reprinted in the US, Campbell’s detective fiction appears to be nearly impossible to obtain.