The Secret Search (E.R. Punshon)

  • By E.R. Punshon
  • First published: UK: Gollancz, 1951. Availability: Dean Street Press.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

This is less a mystery than a gang feud in which Bobby Owen intervenes. Like many of the later Punshons, The Secret Search is nebulous – we don’t have anything so solid as a corpse, only an intuition that something is wrong. “All sorts of hints and possibilities, and yet nothing you can be sure of,” Bobby explains. “Just a mass of shifting sands of suspicion.”

The gangster Cy King wants his revenge on Bobby; one of his cronies is impersonating Owen, and was spotted outside the home of little old Mr. Smith, whose niece Elizabeth recently arrived from Canada, and whose housekeeper was seen in a thieves’ kitchen. Young Ted Wyllie is looking for another Betty Smith of Canada, who has disappeared – but Wyllie may be mixed up with gangsters.

Eventually murder is done. Who killed the old man in the bathroom is revealed almost casually a couple of chapters later, and confirmed by E.S.P. At the end, the crooks wipe themselves out. Not Punshon’s best.


Contemporary reviews

Observer (Maurice Richardson, 27th May 1951): Bobby Owen back in London, and flirting with Olive over a whale steak, solves complex inheritance and impersonation case.  Mr. Punshon is getting bloodier with each book; I lost count of corpses.

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Richardson, 15th June 1951): Mr. Punshon adopts a form midway between the thriller and the police investigation.  His Inspector Bobby Owen slips accidentally into a case of kidnapping and impersonation which leads to several murders and an extremely violent finish.  Bobby and his wife Olive continue to practise Mr. Punshon’s agreeable if perhaps slightly Kensingtonian version of connubial bliss, which has been such a feature of the private life of some modern detectives ever since Mr. Dashiel-Hammett arranged that idyllic marriage for his Nick Charles.  Mr. Punshon is a very steady performer, but this, like so many of his books, suffers from a certain diffuseness of plot.  Something that makes for the pitch of tautness essential to a really first-class thriller is missing.  There is still plenty of time for him to find it.

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