Bump in the Night (Flaxborough Chronicles 2) by Colin Watson

Skulduggery in Middle England…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Chalmsbury is normally a quiet town with at least a veneer of respectability. So it’s a bit of a shock when the residents have their sleep disturbed one Tuesday night when somebody blows up the local drinking fountain. A prankster, is the general feeling, but when on the following Tuesday a statue unfortunately loses its head in another blast, people want the police to get to the bottom of it before more damage is done. The problem is the local Inspector is friends with the man the townsfolk suspect is responsible. So suddenly Inspector Purbright from the neighbouring town of Flaxborough finds himself drafted in…

Colin Watson wrote the twelve books that make up the Flaxborough Chronicles over a period stretching from 1958 to 1982, with this second in the series dating from 1960. Like many series, the books improve for the first two or three, hit a peak in the middle of the series, and then tail off a little towards the end, but even the less good ones are still way ahead of most of the competition. This one loses a little for me by having the action moved to Chalmsbury, which means that we don’t see much of the regular cast of characters who appear in the ones based in Flaxborough itself. But it has its own cast of deliciously quirky characters to make up for that lack, and has the same sly and wicked wit, poking fun at the respectable middle-classes of Middle England.

“Mr Hoole was the complainant, sir, but he didn’t exactly report it. He just stood under where the sign had been and used bad language. I advised him to be careful and he changed to much longer words that didn’t seem to give as much offence to bystanders.”

The books are peculiarly suited to the ’50s and early ’60s – a time when class structures were still fairly rigid in Britain, and people were judged as much by their professional role as by their character, but when the first breezes of the winds of change of the later ’60s were beginning to be felt. The joy of Watson is that he takes delight in letting the reader peek at the scandals hidden behind the lace curtains of the outwardly respectable. It’s quietly subversive, and must have seemed even more so at the time.

Some of the stories were turned into a TV series in 1977 under the title Murder Most English, starring Anton Rodgers as Inspector Purbright. I re-watched them two or three years ago on DVD and they’ve stood up well to the passage of time. Perfect Sunday afternoon viewing…

In this one, the action takes place mainly among the shop and business owners of the town, and Purbright soon finds that most of them are willing to gossip about their friends and neighbours. There’s a good deal to gossip about – everything from drunk driving to murky business dealings to marital infidelity goes on regularly, and everyone knows everyone else’s business. The solution seems perfectly obvious from early on, so you can be sure that won’t turn out to be the real one in the end. Underneath all the humour and light social commentary, there’s an excellent plot, full of motives, alibis and clues, and it’s not long before the destruction of property escalates to a death and a murder investigation. These books are a little too late to really count as Golden Age from a strict time point of view, but they have that feel about them, only with added hanky-panky. Often Watson makes an oblique innuendo and leaves it to the reader’s mind to fill in the blanks, and I always imagine him winking cheekily as he does so…

“A somewhat impetuous man, Mr Biggadyke, by all accounts.”
“Very likely. But that was no excuse for him going round and telling everybody that story about the Colonel and Bessie Egan.”
“Ah, yes. And the spurs.”

I can never think of these books without the word skulduggery coming into my mind – everybody, except Purbright, is always up to something they shouldn’t be, but it’s mainly mild naughtiness rather than outright badness.

“So you see the person I think the police ought to be looking for is someone here in the town who’s been turned into an enemy of society – perhaps through being sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.”
“That ought to be a lot easier,” Kebble daringly remarked, “than having to pick from all the people in Chalmsbury who haven’t been sent to prison for things they did commit.”

Colin Watson

A delight – books I revisit often and enjoy anew every time. They’ve been quite hard to get hold of for some time, so I’m happy to see that Farrago are issuing them as e-books. If you’ve never met Inspector Purbright, give yourself a treat – these books are guaranteed to chase the blues away…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Farrago.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

47 thoughts on “Bump in the Night (Flaxborough Chronicles 2) by Colin Watson

  1. OK, you’re now the second person I trust who’s said I ought to read this one, FictionFan. The story does sound like a good ‘un, and I respect an author who can make some commentary, but still make you laugh. And still keep the focus on the story. Not an easy thing to accomplish! I didn’t know this was connected to Murder Most English. Goes to show you how much I know…

    • I love this series and think it’s always been seriously under-rated. Maybe because it’s humorous, but there are always good plots under the humour. I’ve been enjoying reading reviews from people who’re coming to the books for the first time and seeing that they’re enjoying them just as much as I did first time round, decades ago… 😀

  2. Never heard of this series! He seems very cheeky indeed, even with some of the names he used. Unless that’s just my imagination that caused me to think of such things.

    Sounds like a fun romp.

  3. I love this series, and am about due for a reread. Unusually for me, I thought the TV series was excellent – mind you, I tend to think anything with Anton Rodgers in it is good.

  4. I haven’t read any of these, but they sound delightful. It’s nice to start a new week off with a five-star review! I’ll have to check further into them — thanks, FF!

  5. I was surprised to see your comment about e-books at the end. Do you enjoy e-books? You seem like the traditional hold-it-in-her-hands lady. I used to be. I was so hesitant about going digital, but the more my husband and I moved around when we were in college (dating at the time), the more I felt I couldn’t life ONE MORE box of books. And they get so dusty/filthy! (I wrote a whole post on it). I’m more likely to get rid of physical books if they don’t fit on the shelves I currently have, so e-book are a great way to horde secretly 😀

    • I read both e-books and paper – like you, space requirements make the Kindle almost essential these days. I tend to read lighter books – crime, sci-fi etc – as e-books, while factual books or ‘proper’ literature I tend to prefer paper. But I don’t have a strict rule about it… 😀

    • They really are, and I’ve been enjoying seeing reviews from people who’re reading them for the first time and enjoying them just as much as I did back in the day! 😀

    • They are, and as a fan of vintage crime I’d think you’d love them! The TV series didn’t run for very long, I think, which is a pity because it was very good – I think it catches the tine of the books quite well… 😀

  6. I must have missed the TV series – that’s a pity, but I have a feeling I have read some of Watson’s books years ago. I’m not usually that keen on humour mixed with crime but I think it works well in this book. And a good mystery too.

    • Yes, I think that’s partly why I love them so much – often humorous crime novels are weak on the plotting but Watson’s always have good plots, and they’re often darker and meatier than the style leads you to expect. I read them all in my youth and have re-read the ones I own often – I’m hoping I might be able to fill the gaps and re-read the rest as Farrago bring them out. The TV series is available on DVD and also good fun… 🙂

  7. Ok, ok, ok. You get demerits for adding two more books to my TBR. I don’t recall ever hearing of this author before but the series sounds interesting. The first two books are currently $.99 each in the US on kindle (the only way I read fiction) so I splurged. Thank you. I think.

    • Hahaha – I’ll happily take those demerits so long as I’ve twisted your arm on these! I do hope you enjoy them – I’m 99.9% sure you will. I’d love to hear what you think of them when you get to them. They seem to be releasing the second batch now so hopefully they’ll all become available in the near future. I can’t wait for them to get to my personal favourite – Broomsticks Over Flaxborough… 😀

  8. You have already alerted my to the the Flaxborough chronicles but I am yet to track down hard copies – this could finally be the thing that forces me to get some kind of e-reader device! I feel that I cannot live without them. These books are so ‘me’ is hurts 🙂

    • Hard copies aren’t too easy to find – the ones on Amazon with the white and pink covers are poor quality. I feel kinda silly saying this ‘cos I’m sure you already know it, but just in case… you know you can get a free Kindle app for your phone or iPad/Android tablet, I assume? Because these books are definitely YOU!!!!

      • I know, I know – would you believe I don’t own a tablet of any kind and reading a book on my phone would just be too much of a pain in the bum. But I may have to join the digital age because I NEED THESE BOOKS!! 😀

        • I do think a Kindle is one of the essentials of modern life… especially with all these vintage crime re-releases, a lot of which are only available as e-books. Go on, you know you want to… 😉

  9. I must confess that I hadn’t heard of this series until now. It all sounds rather delightful. I’m going to add the first one to my list. Great review. Thank you!

    • Thank you! Ooh, I hope you enjoy it! I’ve been so pleased to see some reviews from people who are reading these for the first time and enjoying them just as much as I did back in the day. They seem to have stood the test of time well… 😀

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