We are in Sicily, and it is the long hot summer of 1966. Brighton crime reporter Colin Crampton has taken his Aussie girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith abroad for a holiday. While the sun beats down, and gentle breezes blow in from the Mediterranean, Colin hopes to choose a romantic location – perhaps the ruin of a Greek temple – where he will go down on one knee and propose marriage to the beautiful Shirl. He has an expensive diamond ring in his pocket to help boost his case, but it is not to be.
They encounter a young Italian woman who is being abused by her Mafioso husband, and she tells them that her father – who owns a greasy spoon café near Colin and Shirl’s home in Brighton – has been murdered, but her husband refuses to allow her to travel to England. Colin, ever the parfit gentil knight, puts his proposal on hold, flogs the ring, and manages to smuggle Rosina out of the country. Back in Blighty, Colin learns from his contacts in the constabulary, that Sergio Parisi was not only murdered but robbed of a precious ticket for the World Cup Final at Wembley on 30th July. Parisi had won the ticket in a raffle at the local football club, where it had been sent, anonymously, and for reasons yet unknown.
It is always a joy to be sent a new Crampton of The Chronicle story. I have been enjoying them since Headline Murder in 2015. People can be dismissive of so-called Cosy Crime, or ‘comfort reading’ but, like many another crime book reviewer, I have to read new stuff all the time, books that one has no idea from the outset whether or not they are going to entertain, thrill, challenge or what demands the plot is going to make on one’s credulity or attention to detail. The Colin Crampton books are reassuringly and delightfully reliable. It is a dead certainty that they will be:
(1) Full of politically incorrect – but never cruel – humour
(2) Tightly plotted and cleverly written – as one would expect from a veteran jounalist
(3) Gloriously nostalgic, and crackling with authentic period detail
(4) Peopled by outrageously over-the-top characters
(5) Built of the bedrock of the sheer decency and warmth of the two main characters – Colin and his Aussie girlfriend Shirl
Back to the specifics. Colin’s investigations uncover the fact that the murder of Signor Parisi is connected to the notorious theft of the Jules Rimet trophy and its celebrated re-discovery by Pickles the border collie. The plot becomes delightfully more absurd as Colin gets arrested for murder and we meet, in no particular order, a football groundsman who is a disciple of Kim Il Sung, the lovely Shirl modelling international football strips on the front page of The Daily Mirror (phwoar!} and Booby Moore. There is an implausible but entertaining finale in the tractor shed under Wembley Stadium just as Geoff Hurst scuppers the dastardly Huns with his extra-time goals, and Colin and Shirley live to fight (and love) another day.
If settling down to enjoy two hundred or so pages of a book as good as this is a cultural sin, then mea culpa. Forgive me Father. for I have sinned, and I’ll do as many Hail Marys as it takes to return to a state of grace. The World Cup Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is available now. For more on the series, and features written for Fully Booked by the author, click on his image below.