If you follow my Week in Books posts, you ma have noticed me tearing a streak through Basil Thomson’s Inspector Richardson series earlier in the summer, and I’ve been planning to write about them for a while. As this is my first week away in the USA, I though now might be a good time to post this – as I’ve no idea how busy I’m going to be – and whether I’ll be able to keep normal service going on here!
The eight books in the Inspector Richardson series follow the titular policeman as he rises through the ranks, from police constable in the first book, into the detective branch and all the way up to the giddy heights of Chief Constable. They were originally published between 1933 and 1937 – which makes rather a rapid rise for Richardson – and fit nicely into the Golden Age of murder mysteries that I love so much.
These aren’t as complicated in plot terms as some of their contemporaries, but they are fast-paced and very readable. The first book sees an estranged couple murdered on the same day, later stories feature diplomatic intrigue, the drug trade, a suspicious suicide and smuggling. As he rises through the ranks, Richardson becomes more of a supervisory figure, but there are some themes that run through the series – and which get pulled together nicely in the final book in the series, A Murder Is Arranged, which I think might be my favourite of all.
What makes these a little bit different from most of the other mysteries of the time that featured a police officer as the detective is that the author, Basil Thomson was a former Assistant Chief Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and a former head of their CID department. So the police procedural detail in this is drawn more from real experience from many of its contemporaries. Martin Edwards has written an introduction for this latest batch of reissues that tells you a little bit about the author and the context of the books at the time – although it doesn’t mention some of the more dubious aspects of his life that are in Thomson’s Wikipedia entry. However as Thomson’s been dead since 1939 I felt ok buying the books because its not as if I’m lining his pockets!
I wouldn’t suggest making these your starting point if you want to dip your toe into the world of inter-war crime novels – but then i find it hard to see beyond Peter Wimsey for that – but if you’ve exhausted Sayers and Christie, these are easier to get hold of than Margery Allingham can be and are worth a look – along with more well known authors like Josephine Tey and Patricia Wentworth and are more affordable than some of the other more forgotten authors that British Library Crime Classics have been republishing*.
The first book in the series, Richardson’s First Case is available for 99p at time of writing on Kindle and Kobo and the rest of the series are at a similar price point so if you like it, it’s a fairly cheap way of passing a few hours!
*See BotW posts on The Cornish Coast Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder (both by John Bude), Christopher St John Spriggs’ Death of an Airman and Christmas compilation Silent Nights if you want more on some of these.