Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Death Cracks a Bottle: Review

Death Cracks a Bottle (1969) by Kenneth Giles is the sixth novel in his Harry James (Sergeant and then Inspector) series. At this point, James is an Inspector with his own Sergeant Honeybody. This investigation takes James and Honeybody to the Heavan family's wine and spirit business where the chairman of the board, Christobal Botting, has been murdered with a cosh on the head with a three-liter bottle of vermouth. There are plenty of intrigues and antics at Heavans--from blackmail to fiddlin' the books to hatred among the remaining directors to a crazy Heavan family member who's just been "cured" and let out of the loony bin--it's enough to drive anyone to drink. The Heavan family don't care who their front man is as long as he keeps The Family first and makes sure that the profits keep rolling in. It doesn't matter if the books are fiddled (everybody does it) or the wine is a bit watered down. But they do care about the blackmail that Botting has been doing and somebody in the Heavan business has apparently had enough. Was it one of the Heaven heiressess who hold the purse strings or their husbands who sit as directors? Maybe it was Mr. Stiggins, the financial wizard who can cook a book so tasty that no one questions his figures and who looks to be the next in line for the Chairmanship now that Botting's out of the way. Or maybe it was one of the bottlers who was caught tippling a bit too much on the side.

 A Scotland Yard team's life is a hard one--working their way through wine tastings and offers of drinks from the Heavan family right and left as they review witness statements and hunt for clues. Honeybody especially appreciates the free refreshments and James doesn't mind letting the suspects think the wine has gone to head a bit. He sets the final trap nicely when he appears to become overly-confiding while in his cups...but he gets a bit of a surprise when the villain who walks into his trap is unexpected and more prepared for trouble than he is.

Which...speaking of that ending. I'm a little troubled by a senior officer getting himself into the situation which James does and being so pig-headed about not letting anyone else know where he was and what he was doing. Sure, it creates tension at the end, but hopefully real policemen don't do that sort of thing.

Overall, an entertaining mystery and much more a traditional police procedural than the last one I read (Death & Mr. Prettyman). There is still a bit of a feeling that James and Honeybody's conversations have a whole subtext that only they understand, but it's not quite the "Who's on first" vibe that I got before. Again, not quite a fair play mystery--but then the late 60s/early 70s weren't exactly the period for that type of Golden Age style. I will definitely keep my eye out for more this series. ★★

Finished on 5/13/17
Fulfills the "Bottle" category on the Silver Vintage Scavenger Hunt card. 

1 comment:

J.G. said...

Despite the flaws, this sounds like quite a romp. I'm glad you're enjoying looking back to these books for the BYRC.