Monday, 26 February 2018

Book Review - Patrick Butler for the Defence. John Dickson Carr.

This was a very strange book. Surely old fashioned even when it came out in 1956, it's so bad it's almost good. So offensive it's actually impossible for me to take offence.  A terrible, dated, stupid romp which starts with a man in a green fez stabbed, impossibly, in a not-locked-but-empty room in Lincolns Inn and struggling out, of course, a few last enigmatic words to the two junior partners who are the only people on the scene.

So naturally instead of calling the police one of those junior partners decides to put it all before Head Supremo Mr Charisma barrister Patrick Butler, and dashes out, pausing only to draw the attention and suspicions of a passing police officer by bumping into him in the fog and running away.

Hugh (the young man’s name is Hugh) continues to run – into Scotland Yard where Butler happens to be entertaining a young lady he has just slapped on the behind because she’s said something he objects to (this in front of the police, who don’t even say ‘excuse me sir, you can’t do that in here’ when she accuses him and bursts into tears). 

Anyway they escape Scotland Yard and repair, hotfoot, to a glove shop in Seven Dials, where there is a fracas – and on again to a hotel, piling the girls into their laps without so much as a by-your-leave (Hugh’s fiancée having turned up at this point) and making comments that would indeed be offensive if they weren’t so completely impossible to credit.

Brief interlude for everyone to pretend to be married so they can share rooms, and the young woman who is not Hugh’s fiancée to ensure she and Hugh end up sharing (and for him to tick her off for ordering pêche melba and well cooked steak. Real men eat raw meat and stilton cheese, apparently, especially after they’ve just thrown someone through a glove shop window).

Then Butler and Hugh escape from the police a second time by climbing along a ledge and rushing onwards to the theatre to meet the widow of the man with the fez, who in her turn kindly helps Hugh escape from the police a third time despite the fact he may have murdered her husband, and also suggests to Butler that he might want to postpone pinching her bottom (which seems to be his way of saying thank you) to some point in time when they are not actually on the run. 

Incidentally these behaviours appear to be attributed to Butler being part Irish, or at least coincide with him spouting Irishisms and generally giving the impression that any second now he is going to call someone colleen. The widow on the other hand is exotically dressed and says 'dem' a lot. Oh and someone points out kindly that Hugh would probably only get manslaughter for the death of the man in the green fez anyway because the victim was 'excitable' and may well have attacked Hugh first, compelling him to defend himself. 

Because, you know, all foreigners are invariably excitable in this sort of book, practically forcing the phlegmatic Englishman to stab them. (Surely this attitude was terribly dated by 1956? If indeed it was ever more than a literary cliche)

I could go on, but I won't. There are some improbable coincidences, there is a denouement, the dumb blonde isn't as dumb as she seems and Patrick Butler wraps the case up neatly with a bow, hands it over to the police and makes a date with a lady who is not the lady he came in with. 


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