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THE POKER GAME MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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H redistorical crime fiction is all the more accessible when the history is recent enough for readers such as I to recognise it as authentic, and give a nostalgic sigh when some piece of popular consumer ephemera – a brand of chocolate, a radio programme or a make of car – crops up in the narrative. Colin Crampton may possibly be the autobiographical alter ego of author Peter Bartram, himself a distinguished and experienced journalist who remembers the deafening sound of the printing presses, the smell of ink, the jangle of telephones in the press room, the scratch of a pen on the paper of a notebook, and the overiding miasma of Woodbines and Senior Service drifting on the air. The Poker Game Mystery is the latest episode in the eventful career of Colin Crampton, crime reporter for the Brighton Evening Chronicle.

51D8xOLcEFLOne of the many joys of the Colin Crampton novels is that Peter Bartram usually manages to set the tales against actual circumstances appropriate to the period and, sometimes, we have a very thinly disguised version of a real person. In this case, we meet an outlandish minor aristocrat, heir to daddy’s millions but, more luridly, a fancier of young women. He collects them, rather like a lepidopterist collects butterflies, but rather than sticking his prizes into a display case with a pin, he keeps his young lovelies in cottages the length and breadth of the extensive estate, and has managed to organise one for each day of the week. For the life of me, I can’t think of whom Peter might have as his template for this roué, but I expect it will come to me in the middle of the night, rather like Ms Monday and the others do to their lord and master.

W redhen the body of a widely disliked local bouncer is found – his face a rictus of horror and agony – with a suspiciously large sum of used notes beside him, Crampton is sucked into a case which involves a shadowy WW2 home defence unit known as The Scallywags. Crampton discovers that they were a strange combination of Dad’s Army and the SAS – trained to wreak havoc on the Germans should they ever succeed in invading Britain. To enliven matters further, the aforementioned noble Lothario becomes the new owner of The Chronicle on the death of his father, but then promptly signs away the paper as a stake in a losing card game, this threatening the existence of The Chronicle – and those who sail in her.

A redided by his feisty (and rather beautiful) Australian girlfriend, Crampton is up to his neck in a sea of trouble involving, among other things, dead bodies, wartime gold bullion, a predatory newspaper baron, and the arcane skill of doctoring a set of playing cards. It’s wonderful stuff – not just a crime caper, but another fine novel from a writer who wears his learning lightly.

pbColin Crampton’s Brighton is slightly down at heel but all the more charming for not yet having succumbed to the deadening hand which has now made it the world capital of all things green, ‘woke’, diverse and inclusive. There are still saucy postcards to be bought at the sea-front newsagent, and incorrect jokes to be delivered by Brylcreemed comedians in faded variety halls. Peter Bartram (right) has set the bar very high with his previous Crampton novels but he just gets better and better, and The Poker Game Mystery clears that bar with loads to spare. We even have a finale worthy of Indiana Jones, albeit in a murky tunnel somewhere in Sussex rather than in some more exotic location. A word of warning. If the words Atrax Robustus make you feel queasy, then you might need someone to mop your fearful brow while you read the final pages. Clue – not all of Australia’s exports are as cuddly as Crampton’s gorgeous girlfriend, Shirley Goldsmith.

The Poker Game Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership
and is out now.

For further enjoyment of all things Colin Crampton
and Peter Bartram click the image below

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THE COMEDY CLUB MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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ComClubIt is 1965 and we are basking in the slightly faded grandeur of Brighton, on the south coast of England. The town has never quite recovered from its association, more than a century earlier, with the bloated decadence of The Prince Regent, and it shrugs its shoulders at the more recent notoriety bestowed by a certain crime novel brought to life on the big screen in 1947. Brighton has its present-day misdeeds too, and who better to write about it than the intrepid crime reporter for the Evening Chronicle, Colin Crampton?

Crampton is an enterprising and thoroughly likeable fellow, with a rather nice sports car and an even nicer girlfriend, in the very pleasing shape of Australian lass Shirley Goldsmith. Crampton is summoned to the office of his deputy editor Frank Figgis and, barely discernible amid the wreaths of smoke from his Woodbines, Figgis’s face is creased by more worry lines than usual. His problem? The Chronicle’s drama correspondent, Sidney Pinker, has been served with a libel writ for savaging, in print, a local theatrical agent called Daniel Bernstein.

Bernstein has certainly seen better days. His hottest property, the redoubtable Max Miller, is two years in the grave, and Bernstein’s remaining clients consist of dodgy ventriloquists and wobbly sopranos whose top notes have long since disappeared with the last high tide. Crampton is tasked with talking the aggrieved impresario out of legal action, but his job becomes slightly more difficult when Bernstein is found dead in his office, impaled by a sword. And who is discovered with his hand on the hilt? None other than Sidney Pinker.

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Pinker, by the way, is very much in the John Inman school of caricature luvvies, so those with an over-sensitive approach had better look away now. His pale green shirts, flowery cravats and patronage of certain Brighton nightspots are pure (politically incorrect) comedy.

max-miller00Bernstein’s murder is seen as very much open-and-shut by the Brighton coppers, but Crampton does not believe that Pinker has the mettle to commit physical violence. Instead, his investigation takes him into the rather sad world of stand-up comedians. Today, our stand-up gagsters can become millionaire celebrities, but back in 1965, the old style joke tellers with their catchphrases and patter were becoming a thing of the past, as TV satire was breaking new ground and reaching new audiences. Crampton believes that the murder of Bernstein is connected to the agent’s former association with Max Miller and, crucially, the possession of Miller’s fabled Blue Book, said to contain all of The Cheeky Chappy’s best material – and a few jokes considered too rude for polite company.

Eventually, Crampton discovers the killer, but only after life-threatening brushes with American gangsters and psychotic criminal twins born much closer to home. His success is due in no small way to the ability of the delightful Shirley to deliver a debilitating karate kick to sensitive male parts.

There have been occasions – and I am not alone – when I have used the term cosy in a book review, meaning no ill-will by it, but perhaps suggesting a certain lack of seriousness or an avoidance of the grim details of crime. Are the Colin Crampton books cosy? Perhaps.You will search in vain for explorations of the dark corners of the human psyche, any traces of bitterness or the consuming powers of grief and anger. What you will find is humour, clever plotting, a warm sense of nostalgia and – above all – an abundance of charm. A dictionary defines that word as the power or quality of delighting, attracting, or fascinating others.” Remember, though, that the word has another meaning, that of an apparently insignificant trinket, but one which brings the wearer a sense of well-being and even, perhaps, the power to produce something magical.

I can’t remember in recent times reading anything more magical than the three page Epilogue which concludes The Comedy Club Mystery. I have to confess to being sentimental at times and I am unashamed to say that I put this lovely novel down rather moist eyed.

“Yes”, the man said. “Love is very important too.”

The Comedy Club Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is out now. For more on Crampton of The Chronicle, follow this link.

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THE MOTHER’S DAY MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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Robin Williams, Paul Krassner, Pete Townshend, Grace Slick, Timothy Leary, and many others have been credited with the saying, “If you can remember the 1960s, you weren’t really there.” Fortunately for us, Peter Bartram can and was. His lifetime of working as a journalist has produced an alter ego, an enterprising young journalist called Colin Crampton who works for The Brighton Evening Chronicle. He has a gorgeous Australian girlfriend called Shirley, a pantomime landlady by the name of Mrs Gribble, a chain-smoking news editor called Frank Figgis, an amazing habit of getting involved in murder mysteries – and he drives an MGB.

mothercoverIn The Mother’s Day Mystery, Crampton discovers the body of a schoolboy who has evidently been knocked off his bike and fatally injured. What on earth was Spencer Hooke doing away from his dormitory in Steyning Grammar School at the dead of night, cycling along a lonely and windswept clifftop road? In pursuing this conundrum, Crampton whisks us into a world of stage vicars, seedy pub landlords, archetypal leather-elbowed schoolmasters and impecunious toffs. There are jokes a-plenty, and Bartram indulges himself – and those of us who are, similarly, in the autumn of our years – with many a knowing cultural reference that might puzzle younger readers. He takes us into a wonderful sweet shop, the kind which can nowadays only be found in museum recreations:

“I stepped into a small room with a wooden counter topped with a glass-fronted case. To the side of the case was a set of balance scales with its weight tokens. Behind the couter were shelves loaded with jars of sweets. There were chocolate drops and sherbert lemons and liquorice allsorts. There were humbugs and fruit gums. There was barley sugar which glowed yellow like it was radioactive.

The air was loaded with a sickly scent like it had been sprinkled with sugar dust. If you breathed in deeply, you felt you were dancing.”

There is an unashamed sense of the risqué seaside postcard about much of the humour:

‘She was pouring coffee into a mug.

I ambled over and said, “Mine’s white but strong.”
Susan said: “So I’d heard. But how about your coffee, honeybunch?”
She guffawed at her joke and made her chins wobble.’

The wisecracks are not all end-of-the-pier stuff, however. When Crampton meets the owner of the gorgeous sweet shop, he is almost Chandleresque:

“She had a figure that would get Brigitte Bardot demanding a recount …. little laugh lines crinkled around her mouth as her full lips parted in the kind of welcome smile I felt I could pay into the bank.”

PBAnyone who is a student of English humour will soon see that Bartram is part of a long and distinguished tradition of comic writers who find meat and drink in the absurdities of English life and social structures. In the world of crime fiction, however, comedy does not always sit well with murder and bloodshed. The great and sadly under-appreciated Colin Watson did the job beautifully in his Flaxborough novels, while modern writers such as MJ Trow and Christopher Fowler perform the balancing act with similar verve. I am happy to put Peter Bartram (right) up there on the podium with those past and present masters. Incidentally, and quite appropriately for a Sussex man, Bartram knows and loves his Kipling, and manages to quote the great man on a number of occasions

Such is the joyful nature of the writing that the plot is almost irrelevant, but Bartram remembers that Crampton has a murder to solve, and he gives us the classic Golden Age denouement scene in the library. Except it’s not in the library, but in the village church, under the shocked gaze of the pompous Rev. Purslowe. Before the riddle of Spencer Hooke’s death is solved (with an “I’m Spartacus” moment) we get the best joke in the book.

“Georgina had caused a stir when she’d walked into the church. She was wearing a low-cut blouse and a mini-skirt which ended a couple of inches below the Book of Revelations.”

The Mother’s Day Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership, and is out now. Watch the Fully Booked Twitter feed for a chance to win this novel.

Follow the links to check out other features and novels by Peter Bartram.

The News Editor, The Woodbines, and a Eureka Moment

Switched On: The Story of 1960s TV Game Shows

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside …

Peter Bartram also has an excellent website where you can Meet The Characters

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THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT . . .Guest post by Peter Bartram

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PBPeter Bartram (left) is an old school journalist who has turned his life’s work into an engaging crime series set in 1960s Brighton, featuring the resourceful reporter on the local paper, Colin Crampton. Peter now reveals how he came to invent his alter ego. You can read reviews of three Crampton of The Chronicle novels by clicking the title links below.

The Tango School Mystery

Front Page Murder

Stop Press Murder

THE NEWS EDITOR, THE WOODBINES AND A EUREKA MOMENT by Peter Bartram

Two hours into my first day as a newspaper reporter, aged 18, my news editor called me into his office and said: “I’ve got a job for you.” I thought: “This is great. I’m going to be sent out on a big story.” He gave me half a crown – twelve and half pence if you’re two young to remember the old currency – and said: “Just pop across the road to the shop and buy me 20 Woodbines.

Well, it was a start in newspapers that turned out to be surprisingly useful a good many years later when I was thinking about writing a crime mystery series. My original idea had been to base the series around two ill-matched characters – a formula that has served well in thousands of crime books from Holmes and Watson, through Poirot and Hastings, to Dalziel and Pascoe. The trouble was I couldn’t think of any way to make my pair original.

Whenever I thought of an idea, it turned out that something similar had already been done. And then I had a Eureka moment. The answer to my problem was staring me in the face. I was a journalist. I would make my protagonist a journalist. My reporter hero would be a young journalist starting his first job, aged 18, just as I had done. He’d be given some dull jobs to do – just as I’d been – but he’d also stumble across crimes to solve.

On my paper, the chief reporter had started me off covering batches, matches and despatches – better known as births, marriages and deaths. As it happened, there weren’t many batches to write about. The trick with writing the matches was to avoid double-entendres. Never write, “the bride carried a sheath of flowers,” the chief reporter warned me.

But the despatches carried different perils. I turned up at one house to discover the deceased had been laid out on the dining room table. I’m not sure what the rest of the household were doing for dinner that night.

 I soon found there were perils in newspaper work I hadn’t fully appreciated. One of them occurred in my first week. One of the sports reporters had covered a football match. He’d started his report: “This was a scrappy game of football.” Except that the compositors – the mischievous guys who set the paper in hot metal type in those days – had dropped the “s” off the word “scrappy”.

That morning, you could see people all over town sniggering at the piece. Later, you could hear the editor yelling at the proof readers. Anyway, I was so taken with the idea of having a rookie reporter as a crime-busting hero, I rushed to my laptop and batted out the first chapter. A couple of hours later, I realised I’d made a big mistake. A rookie simply wouldn’t have the experience to tackle the challenges a crime buster would face.

I sat down and thought about it some more. I decided that my protagonist would be a crime reporter who’d have regular contact with the police – one of my early newspaper jobs was to attend the local cops’ daily press briefing. But I also realised he’d need realistic newspaper characters around him.

crampyon0511And that was when I remembered my first news editor. I never saw him without a Woodbine hanging off his lower lip. And so Frank Figgis, news editor of the Evening Chronicle, was born. Of course, there was still lots to think about – especially more regular characters. But with Colin (right) and Frank I felt I was on my way. Both of them have big roles to play – along with other regulars, especially Colin’s girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith – in the latest tale The Mother’s Day Mystery.

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THE DEATH OF MRS WESTAWAY . . . Between the covers

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What would you do if you were all alone in the world, with no family, scraping a living reading Tarot Cards in a shabby booth on Brighton Pier, threatened with violence by loan sharks, and then you receive a letter from solicitors telling you that you have inherited a fortune? Hyperventilate? Punch the air with joy? Sing a hymn to whichever god you believe in? Harriet ‘Hal’ Westaway does none of these things. Because she knows that there has been a terrible mistake. She shares a surname with the deceased woman, but that is it. End of. Hal knows that she is not connected to the Mrs Westaway who has gone to meet her maker, leaving a vast rambling estate in Cornwall – and a prodigious bank balance – to her long-lost granddaughter.

TDOMW coverHal Westaway is no crook. She is not an opportunist. She has a conscience. She instinctively understands the difference between meum and teum. And yet. And yet. The gangster from whom she unwisely took out a desperation loan is angry and anxious for his 300%. Hal’s Brighton flat has already been turned over, and she knows that broken bones are next on the agenda. So, she accepts the invitation from the late Mrs Westaway’s solicitor to travel down to Cornwall to meet the family she never knew she had.

In a glorious take on the classic Reading Of The Will trope, Hal meets her new found family, principally Mrs Westaway’s three disinherited sons. Now, at least according to the the solicitor, Harding, Ezra and Abel Westaway are her uncles and, boy oh boy, are they in for a shock as Mr Treswick looks over his glasses, pauses for dramatic effect, and announces that Hal is the main beneficiary.

Once this irresistible set-piece is out of the way, we learn that Trepassen House has some dark – and I mean seriously dark – secrets. Ruth Ware milks the forbidding Manderley-style atmosphere for all it is worth, and she even gives us a Mrs Danvers in the person of the baleful and embittered housekeeper, Mrs Warren. Hal discovers that her late mother was once a part of the Trepassen household when she stayed with Mrs Westaway’s daughter Maud, to whom she was a distant cousin. But why on earth did Mrs Westaway think that Hal was her granddaughter. Was she mad? Simply perverse in wanting to humiliate her own children? And just what happened at Trepassen in that long hot summer of 1994?

RWRuth Ware (right) is not the first writer – nor will she be the last – to explore the lurid charms of a decaying mansion, its ghosts both real and imagined, and the dusty terrors of death, but she makes a bloody good job of it in The Death of Mrs Westaway. Hal Westaway is a delightful character, and you would require a heart of the hardest granite not to sympathise with her and the exquisite dilemma she faces. The plot is a dazzling mix of twists, surprises, and just the right amount of improbability. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a thriller which makes you keep the bedroom light on, and long for the safety of daylight. It looks like being another bestseller for Ruth Ware, and you can judge for yourselves on June 28th, when the book will be published by Harvill Secker.

 

NOW, HERE’S THE BEST BIT!

If my review of this cracking novel has tickled your what-not, and you want your own copy, you might just be in look. Either email me at the address below, putting Mrs Westaway as the subject:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

OR

Click the image below which will take you to the Fully Booked Facebook page. Simply ‘like’ the post, and your name will go into the digital hat. I’ll draw a winner from all the entries after the competition closes at 10.00pm on Sunday 1st July. Due to postal costs, the competition is only open to readers from the UK or the Irish Republic.

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COMPETITION . . . Win a signed copy of The Tango School Mystery

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THE FULLY BOOKED HAT may be a digital one, but if you enter the latest prize draw, your name will be in there, and you may be the lucky person to win a signed copy of the latest Crampton of The Chronicle novel by Peter Bartram.

I’m a huge fan of Bartram’s writing. I love his easy and fluent style, with its occasional sharp edge. Being an elder statesman (well, maybe just old) I enjoy thinking, “ah…yes!” when he throws in the odd cultural reference to what life was like in the 1960s. I’m also a sucker for whodunnits, and I try my damnedest to follow the clues – and ignore the many red herrings – with which Bartram teases his readers.

The Tango School Mystery starts with Crampton’s gorgeous Australian girlfriend having more blood in her rare steak than even she bargained for, and continues by taking us on a whirlwind journey through an England where memories of WW2 – and the strange tale of British fascism – are still very raw.

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YOU HAVE TWO (equally easy) WAYS TO ENTER.  Firstly, email me at:

fullybooked2016@yahoo.com

Put the word “Crampton” in the subject box, and you are good to go.

Alternatively, go to the Fully Booked Facebook page and simply “like” the post about this competition. Clicking the Facebook logo below will take you straight there. The competition closes at 10.00pm GMT on Thursday 26th April 2018.

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FRONT PAGE MURDER … Between the covers

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PeterIn the latest novel from Peter Bartram (left) his alter ego Colin Crampton, a reporter for the Evening Chronicle in 1960s Brighton, faces his toughest challenge yet. Local artist Archie Flowerdew is due to be hanged on Christmas Eve unless Crampton and his intrepid Australian girlfriend Shirley can stop this affront to Christmas cheer by proving that Flowerdew did not murder a rival artist.

For historical background it is well to remind ourselves that the last people to be executed in England were Peter Anthony Allen and Gwynne Owen Evans. Both were hanged at Walton Prison, Liverpool, on 13th August 1964. The Murder Act of 1965 suspended the death penalty in Great Britain, but not for Northern Ireland.

Back in Brighton, Crampton gets to grips with the Flowerdew case. Flowerdew’s alleged victim was the deeply unpleasant and embittered Percy Despart, a talented but disappointed artist whose main income came from designing that peculiarly English art form – the risqué seaside postcard. Despart’s misanthropic nature had won him many enemies, and he combined his artistic talents with his malevolent nature to put caricatures of these enemies on his best-selling postcards.

FPMPersuaded by the condemned man’s niece, Tammy, Crampton gets to work, and finds no shortage of other Brighton folk who would have clapped their hands in glee upon hearing of Despart’s demise. The plot thickens delightfully, as we encounter a crooked art dealer, a lecherous vicar, a camp artist (complete with velvet trousers) and the usual cast of boozy, chain-smoking searchers-after-truth (or a good headline) on the staff of the Evening Chronicle.

Those of you who have read and enjoyed the two previous Crampton of The Chronicle stories, Headline Murder and Stop Press Murder, will be familiar with Bartram’s style. The jokes come thick and fast. Most of them work, and although some don’t, Bartram keeps up a rapid fire delivery of gags that have an accumulative impact. Amid the merriment, however, there is a backbone of seriousness which consists of perceptive observation of the 1960s social milieu and – of course – a totally authentic newspaper background in the days of battered Remington typewriters and hot metal typesetting.

BrookeBartram introduces a fascinating contemporary note by featuring the Home Secretary at the time, Henry Brooke. He was appointed by Harold Macmillan after the Prime Minister’s infamous ‘Night of The Long Knives in 1962. Brooke (left)  was to prove one of the least distinguished holders of the post, however, and he was pilloried without mercy by the BBC’s satirical show That Was The Week That Was. They dubbed the hapless Brooke ‘The most hated man in Britain’, and Bartram recalls their mocking phrase, “If you’re Home Secretary, you can get away with murder.”

Front Page Murder is a joy from start to finish. Yes, it is escapist. Yes, we guess that the the admirable Crampton will, in the end, prevail. No, Bartram doesn’t take us deep down into the dark world of serial killers but, my goodness, Front Page Murder is wonderful entertainment, and is one of those rare books where there is a definite sense of sorrow that you have reached the final page.

Peter Bartram wrote an entertaining piece on What-The-Butler-Saw machines as an accompaniment to the plot of the previous Colin Crampton novel, Stop Press Murder. The links to both items are below. Front Page Murder is published by Roundfire Books (click the link to visit their website) and will be available on 24th November.

I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Stop Press Murder

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THE POSTMAN DELIVERS … Jayson, Gilbertson & Bartram

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We have two new books from Matador this week, plus the very welcome return of the genial crime reporter, Colin Crampton.

TLSThe Last Squadron is a military thriller from debut author Dan Jayson, and it is set fifteen years from now, and the most pessimistic soothsayers have been proved right. The ethnic and religious schisms which had been festering for decades have bloomed into an apocalyptic hell of different wars across the globe. Nowhere is safe, and unlikely political alliances have been forged. A squadron of mountain troops has been serving on the inhospitable Northern Front, but as they fly home for much needed rest, their aircraft is shot down – and they realise that their nightmare is only just beginning. Dan Jayson’s bio tells us that he is the co-founder of an underwater search and salvage company. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Marine Engineers and served in the British Territorial Army. He is based in south-west London.The Last Squadron is published by Matador, and is available now  from Amazon, or from the Matador/Troubador website.

GilbertsonDavid Gilbertson (right) is a writer whose knowledge of policing and counter-terrorism is second to none. He had a long and varied career as a police officer. He served in uniform and CID in the UK and abroad, (attached to the New York City Police Department in 1988 and seconded to South Africa in 1994 as the Director of Peace Monitors for the first post-Apartheid elections). His latest novel, The Path of Deception,  is set in a Britain devastated by a terrorist atrocity of hitherto unimagined scale. The police and security services are faced with the very real possibility that their attempts to prevent the outrage have been sabotaged from within. Suddenly, the task of making safe the imminent coronation of King Charles III is thrown into a very different focus. You can read more on the Troubador/Matador website, or visit Amazon.

Crampyon051Crime reporter Colin Crampton (as imagined by Frank Duffy, left) is a delightful invention by journalist and author Peter Bartram. Only he could verify the extent to which Colin is autobiographical, but suffice it to say that Bartram has spent in his working life in journalism, and knows Brighton in and out, top to bottom, and backwards and forwards. In Front Page Murder, Crampton once again becomes involved in a very literal matter of life and death. Set in the 1960s before the abolition of the death penalty, Crampton is persuaded to establish the innocence of Archie Flowerdew – awaiting the hangman’s noose for the murder of a rival artist. Peter Bartram wrote an excellent piece for Fully Booked on the peculiarly English attraction known as What The Butler Saw machines, and you can read the entertaining feature here. The previous Colin Crampton tale involved these risqué seaside attractions, and you can click on Stop Press Murder to read the full review.

Front Page Murder is published by Roundfire Books, and will be available at the end of November.

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STOP PRESS MURDER …Between the covers

SPM GraphicSome historical crime fiction takes us back to times way, way before our own memories could have any validity. Then there are stories set in periods that many of us could reasonably have experienced at first hand. With the former, it is simply the author’s research versus the depth – or lack of – our own historical knowledge. The latter is a much more tricky enterprise, as someone who sets their book in the 1960s, for example, can be exposed to a more searching light – that of readers who actually lived through the years in question.

Peter Bartram’s mileu of choice is the early 1960s. We are in Brighton, the celebrated seaside town on England’s south coast. Its days of fame as the Gay capital of Western Europe, and infamy as the first large local authority to be mismanaged by the Green Party were yet to come, but the seeds of eccentricity have already been sown. Our guide through the Sussex town is Colin Crampton, the scoop-hungry reporter for The Evening Chronicle – a Brighton newspaper. He is a thoroughly engaging character with a quick wit, and it isn’t too fanciful to imagine that he might resemble the author in his younger days. If you read Bartram’s biography, you will be forgiven for thinking that if Crampton is not Bartram, then he is someone who the author knew very well in his early days as a journalist.

The basic plot is that we have a long-retired star of What The Butler Saw machines – Marie Richmond – who dies in a mysterious road accident. Then, a machine featuring her in her prime is broken into, and the revealing footage is stolen. The man who should have been guarding the pier is found bludgeoned to death – with a coconut. Crampton/Bartram introduces us to some memorable characters, including a camp, overdressed theatre critic and a toupéed old thespian, both of whom are crying out for the much-missed talents of John Inman and Charles Hawtry to bring them to life.

As Crampton attempts to unravel the mystery of why the ample charms of a silent movie star should have given someone cause for murder, there are some delightful period references and jokes which made me laugh out loud, although younger readers might not get the gags unless they are students of British popular culture in the second half of the 20th century.

There may well be readers who, by this point, have been receiving ‘cosy’ messages on their genre radar. All well and good, as there are elements of cosy crime here. We have an unambiguously likeable central character, a familiar and lovingly-painted background, and a cast which includes several amiably odd characters. We reviewers love our genres, and some readers may even share this obsession, so I’ll pop Stop Press Murder into the Cosy pigeonhole, with one or two caveats. Although the tone is generally as gentle and as light as a Brighton breeze, Bartram finds enough dark corners in the seaside town to keep the interest of those who like their crime fiction with a harder edge. The style of the book reminds me very much of the sharply humorous writing of Colin Watson and his Flaxborough novels, which also delight in the dafter aspects of English life, as well as boasting a collection of folk with similarly improbable surnames

Crampton is convinced that there is a link between the odd events on the pier, and discovers that Richmond – or to use her real name, Sybil Clackett – has a twin sister who is no lesser personage than the Dowager Marchioness of Piddinghoe. The local police and the Chronicle’s rival newspapers are seeing the case differently, however, and Mr Figgis, Crampton’s boss, is becoming increasingly twitchy as he fears for his sales figures.

Peter Bartram explores all possibilities inherent in the twin sisters storyline, and delivers an excellent novel, full of twists and turns, plenty of action scenes, crackling dialogue – and a great sense of fun. I’m looking forward to yet more encounters with the Evening Chronicle’s star turn. You can find a copy of Stop Press Murder by following the link.

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