As I approached the return to work at the start of September (yes, I’m behind with my reviewing…) I was in desperate need of some pure comfort reading; often I turn to classic crime, and often I turn to Beverley Nichols. So what better idea than to combine the two, in one of Beverley’s wonderful crime novels? 😀

Nichols was a man of many talents, and I’ve written about him many times on the Ramblings; and I’ve read and covered three of the five crime novels he produced during his writing life (“No Man’s Street“, “The Moonflower” and “Death to Slow Music“). I do own all five, and they weren’t easy to track down (and not always cheap), but I’m very happy to have my battered old copies with their fragile covers. His books feature his detective Horatio Green, and I would probably say that the ones I’ve read have been really enjoyable although not necessarily the best mysteries written! Nevertheless, they’re a real joy and pure escapism, so I decided to pick up the fourth, “The Rich Die Hard”.

My Mystery Book Guild edition with what remains of its cover… 😦

Looking back at the blog, I see that I haven’t read one of these mysteries since 2014, which is a little alarming – time does fly… By the time of the third book, I felt that Beverley was getting into his stride with crime writing, and that “Death to Slow Music” was the best so far; I may have to revise that opinion… ;D

“Rich…” takes place in that quintessential setting of the Golden Age mystery, a country house. This particular one, Broome Place, is owned by the financier Andrew Lloyd, and it is simply dripping with excess. The fixtures and fittings are luxurious, the artworks original and priceless, everything is tasteful, nothing is vulgar. Staying at the house are a number of characters: the host, Andrew and his wife Nancy; Sir Luke Coniston, Andrew’s great rival, and his wife Sybil; Miss Sally Kane, a rich young woman; Mr Cecil Gower-Jones, a briliant musical critic; and Miss Margot Larue, who starts the story very drunk and is soon very dead!

Mr. Green sat at the window of his bedroom, listening to the wind. This had always been one of his favourite occupations, and Broome Place, on this wild November evening, was an ideal situation in which to indulge it. The old house flung back a thousand answers to the wind’s assaults, shrill protests in the high chimneys, long-drawn sighs in the gables, and many threats and whispers in the dark arches of the courtyard.

Needless to say, the local police are baffled; and there are attempts to pass the death off as suicide. However, things do not add up, Superintendant Waller is soon on the scene, and a certain Mr. Horatio Green happens to be passing by Broome Place with his niece Charlotte, hoping that the gardens are open to the public so they can take a look… Before long, they are, of course, embroiled in detecting, and when you add in a butler with a past, a late arrival to the party, a mysterious figure flitting round the edges of the story, and even what you might call an act of iconoclasm, then you have all the ingredients for a fine mystery – which this certainly is!

Beverley (Public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

“The Rich Die Hard” is certainly a fascinating read on a number of levels, not least the portrait it paints of the monied, the way they live and the kind of people they are. Nichols’ characterisation is particularly interesting here; the protagonists are not likeable people, driven by money of course, and they’re often eaten up with envy and verging on madness. They hide their secrets deeply, enabled by that money, but despite all they have it certainly doesn’t bring them happiness. I’ve found that Beverley’s writing often has a harder core than you might expect, and although he’s not explicity judgemental, he certainly seems to recognise his characters for what they are. Mr. Green may enjoy the comforts and luxuries of Broome Place (as I’m sure his creator would) but he certainly is under no illusions about its owners and their guests.

From the top drawer he took out his camera, and old-fashioned model in a worn leather case. He handled it gingerly, as he handled all mechanical objects; he could never rid himself of a childish complex that they were secretly hostile to humanity and might take it into their heads to explode.

Needless to say, there are many twists and turns to the plot, and Mr. Green quietly moves through the action observing and exercising his ‘little grey cells’, though he isn’t always able to prevent further tragedies. I have to say I had no idea regarding the final denouement which was very clever although quite unexpected (and maybe if I’d concentrated more I would have picked up hints), but that doesn’t matter. The motivations were dark, the characters somewhat twisted, and the lives people had led up to the murder often tragic. There was certainly the sense that there was really no point in having all that money, because despite the luxury, it didn’t bring the rich characters any happiness.

The monologue – entitled simply “Mary Anne” – was one of those trifles which, in the hands of Miss Beatrice Lillie, are transformed into souffles of delight. In the hands of Lady Coniston it was not so easily digestible. However, a British audience always prefer to see an amateur – particularly a titled amateur – make a fool of herself by accident than a professional make a fool of herself by design.

Nichols’ writing is, of course, always a joy; and thought there’s plenty of dry wit on show, there’s perhaps less flippancy here than normal because of the subject matter. In fact, Beverley can do darkness and drama with the best of them, and there’s certainly plenty of that here, leading up to a very dramatic event at the end. “Rich” was a book I sped through in a couple of sittings because I was so engrossed and was enjoying it so much. The book was first published in 1957, although in some ways it feels a little like it was set in earlier times. Interesting, reference is made to one character (a personable young man with a police record) having been accosted by ‘certain elderly gentlemen’ and suspected of importuning; it’s worth remember that 1950s Britain was still virulently anti-homosexuality, so a mild non-judgemental mention such as this is telling and I’m not sure whether Nichols’ sexuality would have been common knowledge at the time.

My BN crime collection!

So turning to Beverley was exactly the right thing to do when I needed comfort and escapism. “The Rich Die Hard” is an excellent entry in the Horatio Green mystery series (and I wish I had more than one left unread!!!) The detective himself is a treat (with his olfactory skills on show – he’s always sensitive to smells!) and the whole story wonderfully engrossing. There *are* a couple of references which reflect the age of the book, although the worst word I think is being used to reflect the character of the speaker, as Mr. Green’s language is milder. However, the book is a joy from start to finish, and if you get a chance to read any of Nichols’ detective books I highly recommend them – the perfect antidote to the ghastliness of the modern world!