It’s a while since I picked up one of Beverely Nichols’ books (2021, to be exact) but if you do a quick search on the Ramblings you’ll see just how many of his books I’ve read and loved over the past. So when I was having a zoom with my BFF recently she mentioned having seen several reasonably priced Beverleys for sale online, and that reminded me that I hadn’t read him for so long and also that I had the final volume of his five detective stories, “Murder by Request” unread on the shelves. Inevitably I felt compelled to pick it up straight away and reacquaint myself with not only Beverley’s wonderful writing but also his very entertaining detective, Horatio Green.

As I’ve said about Nichols’ mysteries in the past, they aren’t necessarily the best of Golden Age style writing, but I really do enjoy them as pure escapism. Horatio Green is regarded as an elderly gentleman (though if I recall correctly, he’s only around 60 in this book…) and lives with his neice Charlotte who ably supports him in his daily life (and also tries to keep him away from detecting!) As the book opens, Christmas is approaching and Horatio and Charlotte are contemplating a relaxing and indulgent time. However, this peaceful prospect is disturbed by a visit from Sir Owen Kent. The latter has been receiving death threats, although no-one could possibly deliver them to the private residence in which he lives; and he asks Green to help him prevent the murder.

Charlotte is resistant until it turns out that Kent will be spending his Christmas at a health spa, ‘Harmony Hall’, run by Kent’s fanatical brother-in-law. Horatio does have a habit of over-indulging and as he’s sniffed out a potentially mysterious case, he’s able to persuade Charlotte that it would be good for him to spend Christmas looking after his health, and so off he goes.

The spa, it has to be said, is populated with a lively set of characters, from Kent’s sister Maisie, who has a fondness for alcohol through to journalist and TV crooner, Paul Stole, who has a very over-inflated ego. However, when the inevitable happens, Green’s old sparring partner, Superintendant Waller from Scotland Yard, is summoned to investigate; and the two will follow their own methods and trails to come to a somewhat surprising conclusion!

When Waller entered the room he found Mr Green lying on the chaise-longue, reading – for at least the twentieth time – the immortal adventures of Mapp and Lucia, by the late E.F. Benson. The old gentleman regarded the Lucia books as among the neglected masterpieces of comic literature and, like many other followers of the master, had an uncanny faculty for detecting a Luciaphile merely by a tone of voice or a turn of phrase.

As a mystery, “Murder by Request” was actually very enjoyable, although I must be honest here and say that Beverley doesn’t play fair; there are number of threads of investigation which are undertaken by the two ‘tecs but never revealed to the reader! Nevertheless, I believe from other online reviews that readers of the book *have* guessed whodunnit, so maybe I was just being dense. The plot was quite ingenious, though, the characters entertaining and well drawn, and the solution a satisfying one as far as I was concerned. Green is a wonderful character, with his highly developed sense of smell always providing an interesting angle to his investigations, and I’m actually a bit sorry I have no more of his stories to read.

The Horatio Green stories were published over the 1950s with this last one being issued in 1960, and so the modern world is creeping in – and I do love the way Nichols satirises this! The health spa, with its starvation diet and bizarre pseudo-medical treatments, is a hoot – imagine existing on water and lemon juice for days on end!! Tellingly, one of the female inmates is a young actress who Green observes needs to actually put on a little weight rather than losing even more, and it does seem that celebrity culture hasn’t changed that much.

As for the media, the journalist Stole is a marvellous creation; self-obsessed and desperate to scoop a story, he rushes off as soon as the murder has happened to write an execrable story for his paper. That piece is reproduced in the book, and it’s frankly worthy of today’s rags – a terrible, over the top story that wouldn’t sound out of place in the Daily Mail. Beverley definitely saw the gutter press for what they were…

The back of the jacket has a nice picture of Bev with one of his beloved cats!

So “Murder by Request” turned out to be a wonderful read for me, just when I fancied it, and a reminder of how much I love Beverley Nichols and his books. As I said above, I’m just sad that this is the final bow of Horatio Green because he really was a lovely creation; and these books were very highly regarded at the time, so it’s a shame they’re now out of print and hard to come by. I shall treasure my copies, and keep them safe – because I have no doubt I’ll want to return in future to the investigations of Horatio Green! 😀