Written by Peter Bartram — Back in October last year we reviewed Peter Bartram’s debut novel, Headline Murder. He’s also the author of 21 non-fiction titles, but here we have the second instalment in his Crampton of the Chronicle series. The Crampton in question is Colin Crampton, crime correspondent at Brighton’s Evening Chronicle.
It’s 1963 and while the nationals focus on the Profumo affair, the story that’s just hit the headlines on the Sussex seaside is the murder of Brighton pier’s night watchman, Fred Snout. The body has been found in the coconut shy and the killer’s weapon of choice was… a coconut. However, it’s not Colin who has the lead on this story, which means his editor is less than happy and unless he can find a fresh, unexplored angle, he may looking at the classified ads for a new job.
Fortunately for Colin, the mysterious theft of the pictures from a What the Butler Saw Machine in the pier’s amusements arcade could provide the story Colin needs. The pictures in question depict Milady’s Bath Night – some rather saucy early 20th century images of a young woman. Is there a link between the photos and the murder? Colin is convinced that there is. The problem is he’s burnt his bridges with his contacts at the local constabulary and his nemesis at the Argus, Jim Houghton, is hot on his heels.
Colin’s first break comes when he discovers the identity of the actress in the pictures, Marie Richmond. Hunting her down leads to a dead end when he finds out she was killed in an accident two weeks earlier. Ah, but was her death accidental or is she a second victim? Colin also finds a link to a prominent local family. Marie Richmond was the twin sister of Venetia, the Dowager Marchioness of Piddinghoe. The Chronicle’s archivist, Henrietta Houndstooth, grew up on the Piddinghoe estate until she was orphaned by her mother’s mysterious suicide, and proves an invaluable assistant with her knowledge of the family. What caused the feud between sisters who had been so close during their youth? What drove Henrietta’s mother to take her own life? Are these separate cases, or further dimensions to the pier murder?
Stop Press Murder is a lighthearted cosy/historical murder mystery with pockets of humour from start to finish. Written in the first person, Colin acts as our guide throughout and we see everything from his perspective. It’s a good technique for building a rapport between reader and protagonist, and draws you into the story. Not only is the immediate scene set, but Bartram also builds up the period detail with some historical background, just to add to that 60s feel. It’s very well researched, in relation to the Profumo case and the government of the day.
Though it is an entertaining read, at times Stop Press Murder feels like its just trying a little too hard. It’s one of those books that takes a while to really grab your attention, which it does…eventually… but not before lots of different things have been thrown at you.
Colin’s a likeable character, he’s logical and attacks every situation with a healthy dose of humour. He’s laid-back and capable of turning a negative situation around.
If you’re looking for historical crime fiction novels set in the Swinging Sixties then Stop Press Murder is certainly worth a read. Other books to consider including Payton Edgar’s Agony and Barlow by the Book, which are both set in the Sixties, or Erin Kelly’s wonderful The Ties That Bind and Peter James’ DS Roy Grace novels, which are set in Brighton.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars