The Mysterious Mr Badman by WF Harvey

Blackmail and murder…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Athelstan Digby is holidaying in Keldstone, in Yorkshire, where his young nephew Jim is thinking of buying the local doctor’s practice. Digby is lodging with a couple who own the local bookshop and when they both want to attend a funeral one afternoon, Digby offers to look after the shop for them. During the course of the afternoon three different customers all come in looking for the same book – not the latest bestseller, but a rather obscure book by Bunyan called The Life and Death of Mr Badman. Digby can’t help since the shop doesn’t have a copy, but he’s intrigued. And he’s even more intrigued when a boy comes in later in the day with a bunch of books to sell, one of which just happens to be Mr Badman

This is another rather quirky one from the British Library – they seem to be going through a little spate of really obscure one-off books at the moment. Billed as a bibliomystery, in fact the Bunyan book and the bookshop have very little to do with the plot once the initial set-up is done. The real mystery concerns a letter found inside the book, which alerts Digby to the idea that a high-ranking politician may be being blackmailed. Reluctant to involve the police, he and his nephew Jim, along with a girl whom Jim is in the process of falling for, set out to investigate, with the idea of putting a stop to the blackmail. But then a man is found dead – one of the men who’d been looking for the book – and while the police think it was suicide, Digby, with his knowledge of the letter, suspects it was murder.

I found I had a bit of an issue with the moral stance the author seems to take over the blackmail. I don’t want to go too deeply into it for fear of spoilers, but I felt that the victim of the blackmail didn’t deserve Digby’s efforts to keep his name free of scandal. We live in a less deferential society now, and the idea of covering up dodgy behaviour simply because the dodger happens to be a high-ranking politician is more jarring than perhaps it was back then. The result was that I rather hoped the “good guys” would fail in their cover-up, so wasn’t able to wholeheartedly cheer them on.

WF Harvey

Otherwise, however, I found it quite an entertaining read. Both Digby and Jim are likeable characters and it was a good contrast to have one old and one young. Digby does the thinking while Jim takes care of the action side. The girl, Diana, is a good character too, who plays an active part in the investigation. The plot is a kind of mix of mystery and thriller that rattles along at a steady pace, which helps to disguise the inconsistencies, plot-holes, coincidences and basic lack of credibility! I quickly decided the best way was to avoid analysing it too deeply and simply go with the flow, which was made easier by the general quality of the writing.

Not one that will go down as a classic of the genre, then, but an enjoyable way to fill a few hours.

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

Amazon UK Link

38 thoughts on “The Mysterious Mr Badman by WF Harvey

  1. Athelstan Digby is an absolutely tremendous character name! I think I would agree with you about the whole cover-up business. I noticed the same thing in a Poirot short story a little while ago, though I forget which. It’s interesting that at the time authors could write a plot about covering up the misdeeds of the great and good and expect the public to sympathise with it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Haha, yes, it may have been because the news is filled with politicians committing scandals of all sorts at the moment that made me feel less sympathetic towards the politician in this book! But I did enjoy the writing and the general entertainment of it nonetheless.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It does sound entertaining, FictionFan. And even though they don’t play a major role in the story, I do love the bookshop/book plot element. You make an interesting point about covering up because of someone’s status. I’m not fond of that, either, to be honest, but it does happen in books of that era. And you’re right: the BL has been releasing some different sorts of books lately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always enjoy a book shop element in a mystery too, although it didn’t play as big a part in this one as the blurb made it seem as if it would. Our current news is filled to the brim with politicians committing scandals of all sorts at the moment, so I suspect my sympathy levels towards the politician in the book were even lower than they normally would be! Maybe our current politicians have read too many books like this… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • The writing and entertainment aspects of it were really very good, but it did have some credibility issues which is really what made me mark it down a bit. But overall still an enjoyable read.


  3. I don’t recall ever reading Mr. Harvey, so I have no basis for an opinion. Nevertheless, this sounds like it might be an interesting story (minus the political coverup, of course). Enjoy your weekend, FF!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think he only wrote one or two mystery stories, and the only thing I’ve ever read from him before is one horror story, which I must say was very good! It’s a pity he wasn’t more prolific with mysteries because despite my slight problems with this, overall it was an enjoyable read.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed this more than you did, I think. I know what you mean about the cover-up, but I managed to overlook it, along with the plot holes and coincidences! The British Library do seem to have been finding some unusual and quirky books to publish recently!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it’s been an interesting little run of quirky books, but I was glad to see them get back to a couple of old favourites in the last couple of months. Overall I did find this an enjoyable read despite the issues that I had with it, and I’m sorry that he doesn’t seem to have written more mysteries. Books about book shops are always fun!


  5. ‘Athelstan Digby is holidaying in Keldstone’! even if it was rubbish I was going to read it for that name and place, but it sounds fun I think you’re right to just go along with it and that goodness we don’t share the same values now!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Haha, I know, the names in these vintage mysteries are great! Much better than all the realism in contemporary fiction. 😉 Yes, overall this was an enjoyable read despite the slight issues that I had with it, and I suspect if our current news wasn’t so full of politicians committing scandals of all sorts I might have had more sympathy with the politician in the book…;)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It sounds good, just not good enough to add to my wishlist. But in case you fear you’re losing your influence over me, I recently downloaded another BL novel you recommended. (another Lorac) 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly! I think that’s why I prefer vintage mysteries on the whole – they tend to be well written and to concentrate much more on entertainment then a lot of grim contemporary crime fiction does!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I think we’ve all been there, where we are rolling along, enjoying a fun mystery, and then realize when we start thinking deeply about what’s happening it no longer makes sense. But we are enjoying ourselves so much we ignore these huge plot holes and just keep going, determined to not over-analyze. It happens!

    Liked by 1 person

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