JOHN MALCOLM – Sheep, Goats and Soap. Tim Simpson #8. Scribner’s, hardcover, 1992. First published in the UK by Collins Crime Club, hardcover, 1991.

   I’m a Tim Simpson fan, and it has been a continuing source of irritation to me that the American paperbacks are so far behind in the series — four books now, with this one. Simpson is an ex-rugby player who works for a London merchant bank as one of the Trustees of their Art Fund, and is resident expert`of same. He is married (finally) to Sue, who has alternated between being his lover and the bane of his existence in the earlier books in the series. She is an art historian for the Tate.

   Tim receives a letter from an old rugby acquaintance, hinting at art treasures to be acquired, and making reference to sheep, goats, and soap. These are, it develops, terms used in connection with the pre-Raphaelite group of artists. You’ll have to read the book to understand the exact relevance of the terms, assuming that you don’t already know.

   Tim and Sue hie themselves off to Hastings in search of the acquaintance, and arrive just after his cottage has been blown off a cliff. He himself is missing but there are two corpses discovered in the ruins. They encounter an old nemesis, Inspector Foster, who is less than pleased by their appearance. The plot eventually involves Simpson’s old Scotland Yard rugby chum, Nobby Roberts, and (much to Sue’s displeasure) an old one-afternoon stand of Tim’s.

   The Simpson books appeal to me on several levels. Oddly, one is the painless but quite interesting historical lore about whatever the focus of the current book happens to be. Odd because though I’m reasonably interested in the history of painting, I have almost no interest at all in sculpture and antique furniture; both of which have been the subject of earlier books.

   Malcolm is a founding member of the Antique Collector’s Club, and his love of the subject is evident. Most importantly, though, I like his way of telling a story. He keeps the action moving along while at the same time developing his characters and throwing in the odd bit of art history. And finally, of course, I like Tim Simpson as a leading man.

   It all adds up to a very good series, and a very good current offering. I recommend them all.

— Reprinted from Fireman, Fireman, Save My Books #3, September 1992.

      The Tim Simpson series —

1. A Back Room in Somers Town (1984)

2. The Godwin Sideboard (1984)
3. The Gwen John Sculpture (1985)
4. Whistler in the Dark (1986)
5. Gothic Pursuit (1987)

6. Mortal Ruin (1988)
7. The Wrong Impression (1990)
8. Sheep, Goats and Soap (1991)
9. A Deceptive Appearance (1992)

10. The Burning Ground (1993)
11. Hung over (1994)

12. Into the Vortex (1996)
13. Simpson’s Homer (2001)
14. Circles and Squares (2003)
15. Rogues’ Gallery (2005)