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The Comedy Club Mystery

ONE GOOD DEED . . . Between the covers

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Aloysius Archer has good cause to remember his parents for most things. Their decency, their love and their determination to do the best for him, certainly. For his Christian name, not so much. He finds that most folk can’t even pronounce it properly, so he is happiest with just Archer. This has not been a problem for the last few years, as residents of the State Penitentiary were not too precious about names. Put inside for a crime he didn’t commit, Archer has served his time, survived, and is out on parole. It is 1949, and he is on a bus heading for Poca City, a metropolis in name only. In reality, it is a parched and fly-blown settlement with a few bars, a handful of stores and diners – and a Probation Office.

Archer served his country with distinction in the war, fighting his way up the spine of Italy, watching his buddies die hard, and wondering about the ‘just cause’ that has trained him to shoot, throttle, stab and maim fellow human beings while, at the same time, preventing him from being at the deathbeds of both parents.

OGD coverWearing a cheap suit, regarded as trash by the local people, and with every cause to feel bitter, Archer checks into the Derby Hotel and contemplates the future. His immediate task is to check in with his Probation Officer, Ernestine Crabtree. Quietly impressed by her demeanour – and her physical charm – Archer goes, in spite of his parole restrictions, for a drink in a local bar, The Cat’s Meow

Propping up the bar is a middle-aged roué with a much younger woman on his arm. Hank Pittleman is clearly a big man in Poca City, and he offers Archer what appears to be a simple job – reclaim a fancy car that was held as collateral for a defaulted loan. The Cadillac is currently in the possession of Lucas Tuttle, another local man of property, but a man who seems to have fallen on hard times.

Archer accepts the job, takes an advance on the fee, and sets off on what seems to be a relatively straightforward mission. Truth be told, the Cadillac belongs to Pittleman and Tuttle has it. Archer is tough, capable of extreme violence, so what could be possibly go wrong? As Oscar Wilde wrote:

“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”

Even before Lucas Tuttle answers the door to Archer’s knock by pointing a cocked Remington shotgun at his unwelcome visitor, Archer has learned that the floozie on Pittleman’s arm in the bar is none other than Jackie, Tuttle’s estranged daughter. Archer finds the coveted motor car hidden away on Tuttle’s ranch, but it has been deliberately torched. Cursing his involvement in this blood feud, Archer’s equilibrium and freedom both take a severe knock when Pittleman’s body is found in a bedroom just along the floor from Archer’s room in The Derby. Thrown into the cells as the obvious suspect, Archer is released when he meets up with Irving Shaw – a serious and competent detective – and convinces him of his innocence.

David BaldacciPretty much left on his own
to solve the case after a violent attempt to silence Jackie, Archer has to summon up very ounce of his military experience and his innate common sense to put himself beyond the reach of the hangman’s noose.

Implausible as it may sound, given the body count – stabbings, shootings, people devoured by hogs – One Good Deed is a wonderfully warm and feel-good kind of novel. Archer is a simple man; brave, thoughtful, compassionate, 99% honest and a convincing blend of frailty and decency. Baldacci (right) is such a skilled storyteller that the pages spin by, and anyone who loves a crime novel where goodness prevails would be mad to miss this. Mr B also gives us a rather unusual romance – for 1949, at least. One Good Deed is published by Macmillan and is available in all formats on 25th July.

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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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LAUGH LINES . . .By Peter Bartram

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During more years than I care to count as a journalist, there was one thing I could always be sure of. I never knew what I’d be asked to do next. One minute I was interviewing a bloke seven hundred feet down a coal mine. The next I was firing questions at a courtier in Buckingham Palace. (Well, not literally the next minute, but you get the idea.)

The sheer variety of situations that journalists can find themselves in was one of the reasons I decided to make the protagonist in my Crampton of the Chronicle crime mysteries a reporter. Specifically, a crime reporter. I felt that as I’d had a few reporting years under my belt, I would be able to get into character as Colin Crampton and tell his story with a true eye.

But I didn’t bargain for something else. I’d also need to get under the skin of the other characters I wrote about. In the case of some of them, that wasn’t too difficult. Take the irascible news editor Frank Figgis, for instance. He has some of the characteristic of news editors I’ve known. One, in particular!

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Other denizens of the Chronicle’s newsroom have taken on the features – delightful and not-so-delightful – of other journalists I’ve worked alongside down the years. But it’s been a tougher task creating other characters and the latest book – The Comedy Club Mystery – provided a particular challenge. Much of the plot centres around the suspicions of whether one of five stand-up comedians murdered a theatrical agent.

I puzzled long and hard on how to build the characters of five entirely different comics and then an idea hit me. The characters of most stand-up comedians come through in their acts. So I decided the book would include an excerpt from the stand-up routine of each of the comedians. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realised I’d just made another rod for my back. However, with a bit of thought, it wasn’t too difficult to create five different excerpts for stand-up comics.

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Comic number one is what I call an old-fashioned schmoozer. In the book I call him Ernie Winkle. But he’s the same kind of comic as old troopers from the music halls, like Tommy Trinder or Arthur Askey, who’d entertain an audience with a friendly patter that often included a lot of catch phrases. “You lucky people,” in the case of Trinder, “I thank-you,” with a heavy emphasis on the “I”, in Askey’s case.

baker09Then there was the female comic, in the 1960s often from the north of England, like Hylda Baker. In fact, I’ve made my version – Jessie O’Mara – younger and more overtly feminist than Baker. The feminist movement was stirring in the 1960s. I’ve made O’Mara a Liverpool lass with a strong line in scouse chat.

 

London’s Windmill Theatre, which featured tableaux of striptease dancers, was open until 1964. There were a lot of comedians – including Harry Secombe and Jimmy Edwards – who started their careers by telling gags between the girls’ performances. My version – Billy Dean – is not a nice man and scrapes the barrel when it comes to dirty jokes.

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Educating_archie_1949965cA special kind of comic in the days of variety theatre was the ventriloquist. The most famous was Peter Brough whose dummy was Archie Andrews. The pair featured in a long-running radio show. (I could never see the point of doing a vent act any more than a juggling act on the radio.) So I’ve created Teddy Hooper and his dummy Percival Plonker who do what used to be called a cross-talk act of quick-fire gags.

Finally, in 1962 BBC TV launched a late-night satire show called That Was The Week That Was. It spawned a growth in stand-up comics who had a contemporary edge to their acts. They were often more concerned about commenting on current affairs than delivering traditional punchlines. My guy is Peter Kitchen.

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It took a lot of time to research different stand-up styles and the kind of jokes they told. But it was one of the most entertaining pieces of work I’ve done since I started writing the Crampton series. I hope you enjoy it.

Fully Booked has reviewed several of the
Crampton of The Chronicle mysteries.
Click here to read more.

 

 

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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