This is the first novel in a series written by a well known broadcaster and journalist under the pseudonym T.P. Fielden.
The novel features Judy Dimont; Chief reporter at the Riviera Express and amateur detective. When we first meet Judy, it is 1958; although now a reporter on the local newspaper she had an important role in secret missions during World War II. Although we don’t know the exact nature of the work, its excitement and importance is hinted at throughout the novel. It appears that Judy’s editor at the Express, Rudyard Rhys and friend Auriol, manager of the local tea shop were also involved in these covert missions. After their wartime experiences, they all separately gravitated to tranquil Devon.
Life on the Riviera Express is full of local activities, such as reporting on the Conservative annual ball, guild-hall meetings, the golf club and the magistrate’s court. Bursting into these everyday activities, comes Gerald Hennessy, matinee idol, his wife Prudence Aubrey a fading actress, and his illegitimate daughter Marion Lake. Our first encounter with Gerald is the discovery of his dead body in a railway carriage of the other Riviera Express (the 4.30 from Paddington). Gerald’s body is discovered by Judy and the Newspaper photographer as he was to be featured by their paper. Before they have a chance to investigate his death the body of Arthur Shrimsley, stringer for the national press is discovered on the top of cliffs, an apparent suicide.
In the course of her investigations, Judy encounters many people with grudges against Gerald Hennessy, such as Raymond Cattermole, actor-manager of the local theatre. Cattermole had performed with Hennessy before the war, and their linkage gave rise to Hennessy’s professional acting career.
The characters in the narrative are likeable and vividly realised. Special mention should be made of Judy the main protagonist, Betty her rival on the Express, Terry the photographer as well as her friend Auriole. Judy is an unusual character, strong minded and independent. The War references are intriguing, and I hope this will be explored further in subsequent novels.
This novel is very much in the spirit of the golden age, although set in 1958, arguably at the end of the period. I enjoyed the pastiche element of the novel, which incorporated fictionalised film titles, and also extensively referenced novels of the period, such as the 4.50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie.
However I did find the pace flagging in the middle, as there was not enough going on, and there was a level of ‘the implausible’ as we reached the climax, but for lovers of the British Golden Age of Crime Thrillers, this is recommended.