The Conqueror Inn (E.R. Punshon)

By E. R. Punshon

First published: UK, Gollancz, 1943; US, Macmillan, 1944


 My review

Punshon - The Conqueror Inn.JPG
Source: Facsimile Dust Jackets LLC

A more straightforward and topical story than usual, which is both its strength and its weakness. The plot revolves around the Conqueror Inn, possibly the oldest licensed house in England (although rebuilt in 1750), with lorry drivers, army camps, the IRA and black marketeers all involved in one of the author’s typically super-complicated webs. Bobby Owen’s task is to identify the disfigured corpse in the grave, which could belong to either one of two young men, and to sort through vague and half-glimpsed truths and conjecture to reach the solution. This is where the book collapses, for the ending is badly anticlimactic.


Contemporary reviews

Times Literary Supplement (Maurice Willson Disher, 16th January 1943):

For those who like murder mysteries to be challenging The Conqueror Inn will prove its worth at the start.  Near the newly dug grave in a lonely spot is a box with 2,000 one-pound notes inside.  Since money was literally “no object”, what motive could cause violence in such an out-of-the-way part of the world?  The adventures of Inspector Bobby Owen in search of the answer to this question are exciting enough to be relished for their own sake.  There is an uninviting inn run by a secretive family who haunt it rather than live in it.  There are lorry-drivers who are too busy and too glib.  There are memoirs of Dunkirk that agitate people strangely.  The plot is eventful and dramatic.  Not until some time after the tale has come to its satisfying end does one ask whether Mr. Punshon has answered his initial question adequately.

 

Manchester Guardian (J.D. Beresford, 20th January 1943):

[Like Agatha Christie] Mr. E.R. Punshon is another trustworthy contriver of crime stories, and The Conqueror Inn tells of a very nasty-looking murder, committed in the second year of the present war, on a lonely moor a mile and a half from the isolated inn of the title and kept by a very mysterious family.  The prosecution of the inquiry by Inspector Bobby Owen is all very good fun, but in one particular at least the solution does not come with that final, inevitable click that leaves us wondering how it was that we had not been able to fit the pieces of the jig-saw into their right places.

 

New Statesman (Ralph Partridge, 27th March 1943):

Mr. Punshon’s Bobby Owen employs Inspector French’s technique without his sublime self-confidence; and the chapters French uses for recapitulating Bobby spends in scratching his head.  The Conqueror Inn is one of the best Punshons for several years, with an exciting plot, some intriguing characters and written with great spirit, but the solution is marred by a hopeless flaw.  £2,000 in notes and a naked body are found by an English roadside, and nobody steps forward to claim either.  There is a wartime atmosphere, black marketeers, enemy agents and what-not.  The story is recommended even with the flaw.  In fact, that should add to the reader’s interest, because if you spot the criminal you haven’t spotted the flaw, and vice versa: the two are mutually exclusive.

 

The Saturday Review (5 March 1944):

Mutilated body found near lonely English road starts Insp. Bobby Owen on long and devious trail.  Logically worked-out yarn of British black-market operators.  Interesting background, good character-work, and rather slow-motion.  Good – in its class.