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Colin Crampton

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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COVER REVEAL . . . The Comedy Club Mystery

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pbI have become a great fan of the Crampton of the Chronicle mysteries. Despite having multifarious murders and diverse dirty deeds, they are breezy, funny, beautifully written and they have a definite feel-good factor. Peter Bartram (left) is an old newspaper hand himself, and the background of a 1960s newsroom in a provincial newspaper is as authentic as it can get. Colin Crampton’s latest journey into the criminal underworld of Brighton is The Comedy Club Mystery. The cover blurb tells us:

ComClub“When theatrical agent Daniel Bernstein sues the Evening Chronicle for libel, crime reporter Colin Crampton is called in to sort out the problem.

 But trouble escalates when Bernstein turns up murdered. Colin discovers that any of five comedians competing for the chance to appear on a top TV show could be behind the killing.

 As Colin and his feisty girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith investigate, they encounter a cast of colourful characters – identical twin gangsters, an Irishman who lives underground, and a failed magician’s assistant.

 And it’s not long before their own lives are in peril. Join Colin and Shirley for a rollercoaster of an adventure in Swinging Sixties England – where the laughs are never far from the action.”

The story will be published on 24th May and there will, of course, be a full review in due course, plus news of a Blog Tour and other goodies. In the meantime, you can check out why I am so fond of the series by clicking on the image below.

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THE TANGO SCHOOL MYSTERY . . . Between the covers

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Colin Crampton and his beautiful – if rather vulgar – Australian girlfriend are eating out at a Brighton restaurant. Shirley likes her steak rare, and she subscribes to the old adage about cooking a huge slice of beef, “Knock its horns off, wipe its bum, and lead it quickly through a warm kitchen,” Unfortunately, the blood on her Porterhouse has an additional source – a growing stain in the ceiling above their table.

In this sanguinary manner we get straight into the action in Peter Bartram’s third tale of Colin Crampton, the intrepid 1960s reporter for the Evening Chronicle. Colin races upstairs to the flat above the restaurant and finds an extremely leaky corpse, later to be identified as the mortal remains of one Derek Clapham.

tsm-tnColin’s day has already been bad enough. He has been summoned to the office of Frank Figgis, the News Editor, and given a daunting task. The newspaper’s Editor, Pope by name (dubbed “His Holiness”, naturally) has a brother called Gervaise. Gervaise is in trouble. He has been mixing with some rather unsavoury characters, namely the adherents of Sir Oscar Maundsley, the aristocratic former fascist leader. Interned by Churchill during the war, he now dreams of Making Britain Great Again.

Due to internal feuds among the fascist folk – which has also resulted in the stabbing of Derek Clapham, and the spoling of Shirley’s steak – Gervaise Pope has threatened to shoot Maundsley. Figgis has been told by His Holiness to find the errant brother and stop him from committing murder. One problem. Gervaise has disappeared and so, Figgis, with all his fabled capacity for delegation, has handed the task to Colin Crampton.

What follows is a fascinating and completely beguiling journey through a 1960s England that seems now, at least to those of us old enough to have been there, as far away and foreign as medieval Cambodia, including a visit to the bizarre school for dancing mentioned in the title. Maundsley is a thinly disguised …. ? Well, since neither Peter nor I can afford expensive libel lawyers, you must do your own homework. Along the way we are reminded that the Prime Minister of the day was the curiously archaic Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home (pronounced ‘Hume’), and Bartram also has great fun as he remembers – more or less with affection – the way we were and the things we ate and wore.

Peter Bartram doesn’t mind at all if this book is popped onto the ‘cosy’ shelf of your library, but he serves up just enough violence and and downright malice to blow away the gentle mists of human kindness which can soften the outlines of dark deeds. Like the old trick where you were persuaded to put your tongue on the terminals of a 9 volt battery – and then regretted it – the dialogue tingles and sparks. The gags, puns and one-liners come thick and fast, and – as befits the experienced newspaperman that he is – Bartram never wastes a word.

In terms of plot content, Bartram audaciously brings A Very Important Person into the narrative at the end of the book and, my goodness, how well it works. In the hands of a lesser writer, this episode could have fallen flat on its face, but such is Bartram’s skill, it works beautifully and with added poignancy, given what was to happen just a few months later.

I reached the final page with that mix of sadness and satisfaction which will be familiar to anyone who has ever read a good book. The Tango School Mystery is a delight from start to finish and, sentimental old sod that I am, I want to find a tree and carve ‘Colin 4 Shirley’ on it, inside a big heart. Yes, well spotted – amidst the murder, mayhem and subterfuge, there is an enchanting love story, too! The Tango School Mystery is published by The Bartram Partnership.

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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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SWITCHED ON: THE STORY OF 1960s TV GAME SHOWS . . . by Peter Bartram

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It’s 7.00pm on a Thursday in September 1964 and a goodly proportion of the British population are settling down in front of their television sets to watch one of the most popular shows of the time.

The programme, Double Your Money, starts with a catchy tune that ends with lyrics – “double your money and try to get rich” – that leave no doubt what the show is about. The credit titles fade and a thin man with a cheesy grin, popping eyes, and a faintly transatlantic accent, steps in front of the cameras.

Hughie Green was one of a group of 1960s TV presenters who made their names as game show hosts. By today’s standards, most of the shows seem corny. In Double Your Money, the contestant would answer a question on the subject of their choice – sport and spelling were two favourites – to win £1. If they got it right, they’d move on to a £2, then £4 question all the way up to £32. If they answered that correctly, some had an opportunity to move on to the “Treasure Trail” where they could win up to £1,000 – equivalent to £18,600 in today’s money.

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Most of these shows turned up on ITV – commercial television started broadcasting in Britain in 1955 – because the publically-funded BBC didn’t think it right to give away licence-payers’ money in cash prizes. The BBC stuck to more cerebral game shows, like University Challenge, which first broadcast in 1962 and was based on a US television show called College Bowl.

One thing is certain, Colin Crampton, crime reporter on the Brighton Evening Chronicle, and his girlfriend Shirley Goldsmith would not have been among the 15 million people tuning into Double Your Money. They were too busy chasing the killers in The Tango School Mystery.

It meant they would also have missed other top game shows of the time, such as Take Your Pick, hosted by Michael Miles, a character with all the on-screen charm of a second-hand car salesman. A car – definitely not second-hand – would sometimes be the star prize on the show.

To get a shot at winning a prize, contestants had to answer three out of four general knowledge questions. They would then pick the key to one of 10 boxes. Seven contained good prizes, such as a TV set or holiday, while three held booby prizes. Before they got to open the box, Miles would try to buy the key back off the contestant in a kind of reverse Dutch auction. Most players resisted and ended up with whatever the box had to offer.

As the 1960s progressed, TV companies sought more and more inventive formulae for their game shows. Criss Cross Quiz was based on the US show Tic Tac Dough. It was presented first by Jeremy Hawk and then by Barbara Kelly. Two contestants played a game of nought and crosses. Each took turns to answer a question to get a nought or a cross in a square. They won £20 for every square they filled or £40 for the centre square. The winner – the first to get three noughts or crosses in a row – became the champion and took on another challenger.

The Golden Shot involved contestants, either at home on the telephone or an isolation booth in the studio, directing a blindfolded cameraman with a crossbow bolted to his camera. The contestant could see the target on the TV screen and directed the cameraman with instructions like “left a bit”, or “down then stop” et until they’d lined up the target and gave the order to fire.

On one occasion, a contestant took part from a telephone box. He was watching the screen on a television in a shop window. Half way through his directions to the cameraman the shop TV was turned off.

But it wasn’t only big-prize game shows that pulled in viewers during the Swinging Sixties. Panel games, such as What’s My Line and Call My Bluff, were popular, especially with older viewers. But other game shows, such as Concentration, Jokers Wild and Password, are long forgotten. Which only goes to prove that even among game shows there were winners and losers.

Peter Bartram’s new Colin Crampton mystery is out now, and a full review of the book will be on here very shortly!

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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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