MANNING COLES “Handcuffs Don’t Hold Ghosts.” Novelette. Tommy Hambledon. First published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, May 1946. Collected in Nothing to Declare (Doubleday, 1960). Reprinted in The Saint Mystery Magazine, January 1964. Also reprinted in Great Spy Novels and Stories, edited by Roger Elwood & Sam Moscowitz (Pyramid, paperback, August 1965).

   I don’t remember the title, but one of intrepid British agent Tommy Hambledon’s adventures was one of the first “grown up” mysteries I remember reading. (It was in one of the Detective Book Club’s 3-in-1 volumes I checked out of the local library, circa 1956.) It was a strange exciting affair, and all I remember of it was its very remarkable ending, one that came as a complete surprise to me, having (I think) something to do with an identity kept secret all through the book.

   I’ve been a fan ever since.

   As time went on, I began to appreciate the serio-comic approach the Coles’ took to spy fiction all the more. Hambledon’s adventures are deadly serious, but sometimes he does get into the darnedest situations!

   “Handcuffs Don’t Hold Ghosts” starts out in truly superb fashion, which means it can only go down from there, but there’s a last couple of paragraphs that completely makes up for any sag that comes in the middle section. Hambledon and his good friend Chief Inspector Bagshot are listening to the radio, logs on the fire, and in particular a presentation by the BBC being a live production of two psychic investigators looking for ghosts in an old *haunted* mansion. First, under very spooky situations, one of the investigators disappears, then the other, following by the announcer, then the two radio technicians who come in to see what’s going on. All on live radio.

   Brrr.

   Turns out that Tommy knows the owner of the house, and the next day he and Bagshot go in person to investigate. Tommy also knows more about the old fellow than he lets on, so there’s no attempt to make this a fair play mystery. It’s more of a thriller than a detective story, but as I said there up above, the last couple of paragraphs more than make up for any letdown after that totally fabulous opening.

   What’s really going on, I can’t tell you, but I may as well give you a hint, along with the obligatory [WARNING!]. The story first appeared in 1946, soon after the war ended, and people in Britain especially were still wondering what was happening to all of the Nazis, especially those at the top echelon, some of whom were captured and others were not.

   If that’s too much of a hint, I apologize.