William F. Deeck

HOSANNA BROWN — I Spy, You Die. Victor Gollancz Ltd, UK, hardcover, 1984. G. K. Hall, US, hardcover, 1985. Back-In-Print Books, UK, softcover, 2004.

   The Kavendish Laboratory at Cambridge is developing the Pasar. The Pasar could be used to supply, among other things, free power to the world, or it could be employed to destroy the world. Someone is providing the Chinese, it seems, with piecemeal information about the research.

   Three of the scientists at the laboratory are members of Michaelhouse College, a rather hidebound group who have only recently and reluctantly discovered that females can be scholars. Thus, Her Majesty’s Government, with that delightful government ability to ignore the obvious, concludes that a female investigator is what is needed.

   Adding to what would appear an already chilly reception, the government decides to choose an American. Frank le Roux has achieved some reputation doing investigations for IBM. She is young and beautiful — it goes without saying, doesn’t it? — and she is black, if one-eighth part on her mother’s side qualifies her to describe herself as such. But just to prove her bona fides in this matter, she is a natural blonde.

   At her first evening at Michaelhouse during a Festive dinner, a goblet is passed around the table for all to drink from. Frank is the penultimate imbiber, but something keeps her from tasting. The last drinker, the Master of the college, partakes and dies, poisoned with choral hydrate. If Frank had not put the poison in the goblet, then either she was the target of the poisoner or the poisoner didn’t care if she died along with the Master. Does this bother Frank or even pique her curiosity? Nope.

   The next morning Frank has breakfast with the director of the laboratory, a man now in the running for the mastership of the college. On being shown around his apartment, she spots his four-poster bed. A bed, it becomes clear, means sex to Frank, and she invites the director to have at it.

   He does, and it is, of course, perfect, despite its quickness. “Gruff, half-swallowed professorial grunts of pleasure as Frank herself seemed easily, lightly, to peak. A deep contented moan of ecstasy, like a long-held trumpet note.”

   (Mystery writers, should they wish to make a great deal of money, ought not to write novels but a nonfiction work about how their heroes and heroines manage perfect sex both quickly and under unusual circumstances, And how do “professorial grunts of pleasure” differ from ordinary grunts? But I digress.)

   Frank then proceeds to tell her bedmate, one of the possible suspects of the leaks, all about her top-secret investigation.

   Page 44 had been reached. The world, as far as I could tell, had not been destroyed. Frank, in her own inimitable fashion, must have been successful. Was it really necessary to read on? I decided it would be more enjoyable to abandon the book and read about the adventures of Pooh Bear in a world much more realistic than is contained in I Spy, You Die.

— From The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 10, No. 1, Winter 1988.

Bibliographic Notes:   There was one further adventure of Frank le Roux, I am mildly surprised to say — I am inclined to trust Bill’s judgment on all matters criminous — that being Death Upon a Spear (Gollancz, 1986).

   As another point of interest, I am sure that Bill did not know — else he would have mentioned it — that “Hosanna Brown” was the pen name of Robert Malcolm Ward Dixon, who has no further entries in Al Hubin’s Crime Fiction IV.