Thursday, 24 December 2020

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton

The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton
First published by Hodder and Stoughton in 1956. Republished by Agora Books on the 26th November 2020.

My 50th Classics Club Challenge read - challenge complete!

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The antiquarian bookshop at 200 Charing Cross Road is rumoured to have a ghost. Despite the scares and supposed sightings, Sally Merton is happy to go about her job as normal. Rather than ghosts, her real concern is the ghoulish Mr Butcher. Rude and rough, Butcher has made more enemies than friends while working at the Heldar family’s shop. But one evening, things become a little too suspicious for Sally’s liking. With no one else in the upstairs rooms, a spectre is spotted — the next morning, Butcher is found dead at his desk.

While Scotland Yard is called in to handle the case, Sally undertakes her own investigation with the help of Johnny Heldar. Can the pair solve the mystery? Or will the supernatural overcome their sleuthing?

I had just started casting around for a Christmas Eve ghost story when I spotted The Two Hundred Ghost by Henrietta Hamilton on NetGalley. A classic crime novel set in a haunted bookshop sounded just the thing! Hamilton herself apparently worked in one of London's antiquarian bookshops for a while and she brings her experience of this environment to her book, creating an authentic location with a variety of interesting characters. This was in the days when an independent bookshop could easily support a dozen fulltime staff each of whom might have had the motive and opportunity to murder the unpopular Mr Butcher so Scotland Yard's Inspector Prescott has his work cut out to determine the culprit. While the murder investigation takes centre stage though, I appreciated Hamilton's scene-setting portrayals of post-war London. Hostilities themselves ceased a decade earlier, but unsafe bomb damaged buildings are still a common sight and no-one bats an eyelid at packer Fred's increased shell-shock agitation, indicating that his predicament was quite normal.

I liked that The Two Hundred Ghost, named for the shop's being located at 200 Charing Cross Road, neatly combines the crime fiction staples of detective fiction and independent sleuths. I got some clues via Inspector Prescott's enquiries and others through Sally's insatiable curiosity. There is a fun hint of competitiveness between the two, especially once Johnny begins to assist Sally. This is the 1950s after all so obviously her discoveries would be taken more seriously if a man were to vocalise them! I didn't realise their chaste friendship was meant to be construed as the beginning of a romance though so this came as more of a surprise than the eventual unveiling of the murderer. I enjoyed reading The Two Hundred Murderer and this opportunity to discover Henrietta Hamilton's writing. It's great that publishers such as Agora are republishing these formerly lost classics for modern readers such as myself.

Search Literary Flits for more:
Books by Henrietta Hamilton / Crime fiction / Books from Scotland

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