In my never-ending quest for a good mystery to read, I came upon V.C. Clinton-Baddeley reviewed by Yvette at In So Many Words for her Friday’s Forgotten Book. Indeed, V.C. Clinton Baddeley must be forgotten, as he doesn’t even merit an entry on Wikipedia. The old-fashioned author biography on the book jackets tell us that Clinton-Baddeley was a historian and editor of Enclopaedia Brittanica, as well a star of British radio and theater. In addition to having written several plays, pantomimes, operettas and a history of the Burlesque tradition in the English theatre, Clinton-Baddeley wrote five mystery novels featuring Dr. R. V. Davie. The two I’ve read so far are the ones my local library could get a hold of, and they were both pretty old editions.
Here’s what I can tell you about Dr. Davie mysteries. They’re kind of about someone whose been killed and figuring out who killed them. But they’re mostly about Dr. Davie and his particular view on life. He is dismayed by a particular style of gardening. He is delighted by a proper creme brule (in fact, there’s a recipe for such at the end of My Foe Outstretch’d). He quite enjoys cats. He can remember riding in a hansom cab. He belongs to a gentleman’s club in London.
As I’ve written before, my never-ending quest for a good mystery is really mostly about trying to find an exact replica of Agatha Christie. In the process, I have read many, many wonderful mysteries that are nothing like Agatha Christie. And some that were not like Agatha Christie at all and were also not very good. So far, V.C. Clinton-Baddeley is as close as I’ve come to Dame Agatha, and here’s why. What I loved about Christie’s mysteries were not really so much the construction of the mysteries themselves. I did like that she wrote her novels in a way that allowed you, were you so clever, to figure out “who did it.” I did like her recurring characters, and especially Miss Marple. But what I really loved was the view onto English life of a certain time period and from a certain class background which Christie gave you.
It was from Agatha Christie mysteries that I got my first glimpse of what the British Empire meant. Ah, yes, all those Colonel’s and Major’s who’d spent time in India. It was from Agatha Christie novels that I learned about the sweeping social transitions in English social life brought about by the two wars. You know, no one wants to go into service anymore. But I don’t think it was ever Christie’s intention to provide this kind of window into an English sensibility. It just happened, and in its casualness, it was delightful. Reading Agatha Christie mysteries as a young girl and teenager, there were so many things I didn’t understand, but sometimes they made more sense if I just kept reading. What exactly were they doing with torches? Didn’t they have flashlights? In Christie’s mysteries, it was as if I were seeing the world through English eyes, and even the things I didn’t quite understand were still exciting.
Like Agatha Christie, V.C. Clinton-Baddeley is as interested in conveying to us Dr. Davie’s view of the world as he is in solving any mystery. Is Dr. Davie a typical kind of bachelor instructor of history from Cambridge for the time period? I have no idea. But isn’t it a lovely diversion to hang out with him, tottering around the English countryside or London or Cambridge, and see the world from his point of view? I finished No Case for the Police just last night, and this morning I can’t even remember who the murderer was. But I can remember Dr. Davie’s aversion to a certain kind of flower bed and his love of a good afternoon nap. That’s more than enough for me.