This narrator of the 1949 mystery gets into a reader’s good graces by observing, “The trouble with bookshops is that they are as bad as pubs. You start with one and then you drift to another, and before you know where you are you are on a gigantic book-binge.”
But in a "curious little shop in a side-street off the Tottenham Court Road," botanist Max Boyle finds not only recondite tomes but also two bodies in a back office filled with gas fumes. He also notices that their heads have been bashed in and that the room is bolted from the outside. Not for the first time, internal evidence says, Boyle calls the long-suffering Yard Chief Inspector Reginald F. Bishop a.k.a. The Bishop. However, Boyle’s flat mate and research mentor Professor John Stubbs horns into the investigation, which reveals a dismal world of blackmail, pornography, and theft of rare books. The suspects are sharply differentiated, the plot speeds up, and in a change of tone and pace, the reveal is outstanding.
The Bishop is skeptical of Stubbs’ use of the scientific method. He claims that forming and testing hypotheses, finding them implausible, and starting the process over and over again until the solution that fits the facts is found simply amounts to guessing and throwing explanations out until time, more evidence, and the law of averages ensure that one explanation is probably the right one. Stubbs, a loud beer-quaffing Scot, takes exception to this wording of the scientific method. But in traditional academic style, truth is found through different approaches and more or less good-natured bickering.
Author R. T. Campbell (real name Ruthven Todd) was a Scottish-born literary man who wrote a handful of mysteries. His witty writing style makes up for his jocose repetitions when describing the foibles of Stubbs and The Bishop. Also enjoyable are the superbly drawn characters and vigorous dialogue. Every setting is appropriately claustrophobic.