JOHN CREASEY – The Baron Branches Out. Avon V2341, US, paperback; 1st printing, July 1970. Published in hardcover by Charles Scribner’s Sons, US, 1967, as by Anthony Morton. First published in the UK by Hodder & Stoughton, 1961, as A Branch for the Baron, as by Anthony Morton.

  The Baron, otherwise known as John Mannering, went more or less respectable sometime over the years and most definitely had done so by the time this book was published. In his early days, as described in more detail by David Vineyard in his review of Meet the Baron (1937) here on this blog, he was a gentleman thief, one specializing in jewels, and stealing only from those who could afford the loss.

  Neither those early days nor his escapades on the other side of the law are mentioned in this book — nor (I believe) is he even referred to as the Baron — save obliquely in one regard. Mannering is now a well-known owner of a huge antiques establishment called Quinns, but when his latest idea brings him in close proximity to murder, the local police chap on hand is quite antagonistic and is convinced that Mannering has something to do with it.

  Readers not versed in Mannering’s background will be puzzled by this antagonism, as there is nothing else to support it, and it is a small key to the story. And this has to do with that idea of Mannering’s I referred to a short while back, to wit: that of buying a British manor house about to torn down to make way for a new bridge, deconstructing it himself, and shipping the building materials off to Boston, then to be put back together there as a branch of Quinns in the US.

  Of course things do not go as planned. There are hints of a ghost, a possible hoard of family jewels hidden somewhere in the mansion, a missing owner, and a couple of murders. But soon enough off to Boston the timbers and stones go, and sure enough, hints of ghosts, jewels, and murders show up as well.

  Creasey has a very fluid, readable writing style, and it goes a long way in disguising the fact that neither the story nor the players in it are all that deep. It’s enjoyable enough, but a few hours after you finish it, you may start to ask yourself if that was all there was.