William F. Deeck

OSMINGTON MILLS – No Match For the Law. Chief Inspector William Baker #3. Geoffrey Bles, UK, hardcover, 1957. No US edition.

   Mr Justice Craven is rather an amusing personality — that is if you don’t have to appear before him as barrister or defendant or plaintiff. In that event, his biting wit might not appeal. And it’s not always comfortable being a member of his family.

   During a cricket match to celebrate St. Geoffrey’s Day. a match that takes place between the ‘law’ — members of the bar — and ‘order’ — local civil officials — Judge Craven, in his 70s and having scored 42, takes a break and drinks a beverage he made himself from a recipe he found in an old book. Three hours later he dies from oxalic poisoning. a rather unpleasant way to go.

   Since there were people about who had no liking for the judge. the police do have some suspects. though because of the circumstances it’s a small list. Later, more information is developed that broadens the field.

   Both the police and the suspects are interesting people. Mills handles characterization well. If there’s a complaint, it is that there are so many characters who are possible suspects that he can’t really do justice to all of them. Chief Inspector Baker of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch is at the cricket match when the judge is poisoned and handles the investigation well, but how was he to know about the joker in the woodpile?

   Purists may cavil and claim that this is not a fair-play novel. Perhaps it isn’t. It is certainly an excellent whodunit.

— Reprinted from CADS 16, May 1991. Email Geoff Bradley for subscription information.

Bibliographic Notes:   Osmington Mills was the pseudonym of Vivian Collin Brooks, (1922-2002). Besides five other detective novels, he was the author of ten cases for Inspector Baker between 1955 and 1966. Only five of the fifteen have been reprinted in the US.

[UPDATE.]   If you read the comments, you will find that it has been suggested — and confirmed — that Osmington Mills was female, and that all references to her as “he” should be changed to “she.”