It’s the early 1960s. Colin Crampton is the crime correspondent for the Brighton Evening Chronicle. He’s relatively new to the job, and he has the twin pressures of constant daily deadlines and a competitor who’s been doing the job for decades and is wired into every police and criminal source in the region. So Colin does what he does best – he keeps stumbling into crimes, and when he does, he’s sharp enough to figure out what’s going on, and what to do next (after he phones in his story).
Crampton is the fictional journalist of author Peter Bartram. In addition to several novels, he’s the star of a novella and a collection of short stories that are fun to read.
In Murder in Capital Letters, Crampton agrees to help a friend (a pub owner; Crampton knows a lot of pubs) get his money back. The pub owner bought what he thought was an early 19th-century love letter from the Prince Regent to his mistress. Crampton spots the numerous errors of the forgery, and then says he’ll go visit the forger himself, an antiques dealer named Frederick Hollingsbourne-Smith. Perhaps there’s a story here; at the least it will be a few free pints.
What he walks in on is the body of Mr. Hollingbourne-Smith, with two bullet holes in it. And Crampton does what any self-respecting reporter would do – and it’s not calling the police. He spends a few minutes investigating the crime scene (for “local color” for the story). And he spots several metal letters used in linotype printing on the dead man’s desk. Then he calls the police.
The problem for the police is there are a multitude of possible suspects – a former wife, a mistress, a former partner, not to mention all the various people the man has cheated and defrauded over the years. But Crampton is on the job – and he desperately needs a follow-up story.
Equally great fun are the seven short stories that comprise Murder from the Newsdesk. In “The Mystery of the African Charity,” a recent widow is being bothered by her nephew, who’s storing used clothes at her house for an African charity. The nephew is not the type to be involved in philanthropy, and a friend of the widow asks Crampton to look into it. “The Mystery of the Two Suitcases” involves suitcases being left and exchanged at the local railway station. And there’s a mink coat inside one of them.
“The Mystery of the Single Red Sock” begins with Crampton buying gin at the off-license when a would-be robber arrives, wielding a baseball bat. Crampton thwarts the robber, but is drawn into a larger story. In “The Mystery at the Beauregard Hotel,” Crampton receives a tip (from his landlady) that there’s been a double murder at establishment, and he looks into it only to find something else entirely. “The Mystery of the Precious Princess” involves a greyhound, and who may be fixing races at the local dog racing track.
“The Mystery of the Note on the Beach” is about an apparent suicide, except Crampton sees something being staged instead of an actual suicide. And in “The Mystery of the Phantom Santa,” a little boy happens to mention to Crampton that he’s been seeing Santa Claus arriving each night at the garage attached to the boy’s house.
Bartram has even more fun with his characters’ names. And the Evening Chronicle’s editor, Frank Figgis, is a character drawn straight from life (I knew people just like him when I worked for a newspaper in Texas).
Author Peter Bartram has had a long career in journalism, including being a reporter on a weekly newspaper, an editor for newspapers and magazines in London, and freelance journalism – all of which have been utilized in creating the character of Colin Crampton. Bartram is also a member of the Society of Authors and the Crime Writers’ Association.
Both Murder in Capital Letters and Murder from the Newsdesk are light, easy-to-read, and entertaining mysteries.
Top photograph by Darren Coleshill via Unsplash. Used with permission.