30 October 2009

Review: MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY by Peter Lovesey

Large Print edition, Chivers Press, 1973, ISBN 0-740-4593-5, 259 pages.
A Sergeant Cribb mystery.

Like many of Peter Lovesey's other books, MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY doesn't seem to get around to the crime fiction bit until about half way through.
This tale is set in 1882 England and the beginning of summer. Albert Moscrop goes to Brighton for a seaside holiday, taking with him his latest acquisitions, a couple of telescopes. Albert is a bit of a voyeur and likes to watch people, and Brighton with its promenading tourist population is the perfect place. Albert arrives at the beginning of the "real season", the accommodation prices have risen, and a better class of tourist has arrived. Albert discovers the attractive face of Zena Prothero, and decides to find out more about her. He follows her, her son, and then contrives to meet her husband. Still no crime. And then Zena seems to disappear. Albert feels compelled to go to the police.

At the same time a severed hand is discovered in the Alligator cavern at the Aquarium on the Brighton promenade pier. The Brighton police feel that this is an investigation outside their capability, and send for London expertise in the form of Sergeant Cribb and Constable Thackery from the Criminal Investigation Department. And so the two strands of the novel converge.

There were a couple of elements of this novel that I did a little research for. One was the surname Moscrop. I wondered abut the origins of the name and found that it is actually a Scottish surname of quite long standing, with possible Norse origins. If you are interested in the origin of your surname (or of one in a novel) then the site I found, SurnameDB, might be of use to you.

One of the other things that interested me was the history of the condition of asthma. One of the characters in MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY suffers from asthma, and I wondered whether it was a recognised condition in 1881, the year the novel is set in. Here is part of what I found: "One major study was done by Dr. H. Salter in 1864 to prove that asthma is a pure physical ailment. He discovered that animal dander could trigger asthma and when the subject was in an environment free of animal dander he ceased to experience conditions of this ailment."

Sergeant Cribb applies a mix of careful elimination of possible suspects through judicious questioning, observation of facial reactions, logical deduction, and scientific evidence to finally come up with an interpretation of the facts of the case. Even when the verdict of the Cornoer's Court goes against him, as it does this time, he persists in his investigation until he has solved the case to his own satisfaction.

Peter Lovesey's first novel WOBBLE TO DEATH (1970) introduced the redoubtable Victorian policemen, Cribb and Thackeray. He won the Gold Dagger Award with THE FALSE INSPECTOR DEW and in 2000 joined the elite group of people awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger Award. I have been a Lovesey fan since WOBBLE TO DEATH arrived in South Australia in paperback, and you'll find him among my favourites.

My rating: 4.4

MAD HATTER'S HOLIDAY is the 4th in the Cribb series.
1. Wobble to Death (1970)
2. The Detective Wore Silk Drawers (1971)
3. Abracadaver (1972)
4. Mad Hatter's Holiday (1973)
5. The Tick of Death (1974)
aka Invitation to A Dynamite Party
6. A Case of Spirits (1975)
7. Swing, Swing Together (1976)
8. Waxwork (1978)


BooksPlease said...

I think I'll have to read Peter Lovesey's books. Is it best to start with the first one do you think?

Kerrie said...

Margaret - look for THE CIRCLE - the first in the Hen Mallin series, or read the Peter Diamond series - I loved THE HOUSE SITTER - probably reading them in order pays off, but I don't think you necessarily need to do that. I really enjoyed THE VAULT too - which I think he wrote as a spoof on the cozy.

BooksPlease said...

Thanks for the info. When we've moved house I'll look out for these.


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