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murder underground

I am still very behind with my reviews; this book was my last read of April which I read during the readathon the weekend before last. Murder Underground was a good readathon pick, as it was a real old-fashioned page turner from the British Library.

“Dozens of Hampstead people must have passed the door of the Frampton private hotel – as the boarding house where Miss Euphemia Pongleton lived was grandly called – on a certain Friday morning in March 1934, without noticing anything unusual. When they read their evening papers they must have cursed themselves for being so unobservant, but doubtless many of them made up for it by copious inventiveness and told their friends how they had sensed tragedy in the air or noticed an anxious look in Miss Pongleton’s eyes.”

A Friday morning in 1934 seemed just as usual, people hurrying off to their daily toil, when a bundle of clothes on the stairs at Belsize tube station, turns out to be the body of Miss Euphemia Pongleton. A long-term resident at the nearby Frampton Hotel, her fellow boarders are not noticeably overwhelmed with grief, but they are all fascinated by the murder of a woman they knew – though generally disliked. It seems that Miss Pongleton was a very tiresome old woman, miserly, despite her apparent wealth, she would walk to Belsize tube to save a penny on the fare.

The police very quickly settle on Bob Thurlow, boyfriend of Nellie who works at the Frampton, who they believe had reason to kill her. Nellie is inconsolable, telling everyone at the hotel that her Bob wouldn’t do such a thing – reminding them how good Bob was to Miss Pongleton, taking her little dog Tuppy for walks for her. However, things don’t look too promising for Bob, who was on duty at the station at the time of Miss Pongleton’s death, and over whom Miss Pongleton was holding information that she had threatened to go to the police about.

The Frampton hotel houses an odd collection of residents; from the attractive, modern young women Cissie and Betty, to the novelist Mrs Daymer and the respectably serious Mr Slocomb who now occupies Miss Pongleton’s armchair, old Mr Blend and the much younger Mr Grange. Mrs Bliss is the woman who presides over the house and her residents, rather scandalised at the trouble that has been brought to her door.

“Mr Basil Pongleton’s departure from his lodgings in Tavistock Square, a little later on the same morning, was less sedate. He was obviously in a hurry; yet it was after ten o’clock when he passed almost directly beneath the Frampton, whizzed along through the tunnel in the direction of Golder’s Green. The underground train which he took from Warren Street at about 9.25 would have passed that spot nearly half an hour earlier, and his subterranean wanderings on that morning were to cause him a good deal of trouble.”

Miss Pongleton had two relatives living nearby, her nephew Basil, and niece Beryl (they are cousins not siblings), one of whom will come into her money. Beryl is already well off – and it is generally supposed that Basil will inherit – although Miss Pongleton frequently fell out with Basil and would threaten to disinherit him. Basil was in the vicinity of Belsize park on the fateful morning, and proceeds to make himself appear suspicious with his increasingly ridiculous antics and lies. The reader knows Basil is innocent – yet no character has ever done more to make themselves appear rather guilty. Basil and his absurdities are all rather hilarious, giving a nice little touch of humour to this vintage mystery. Both Basil and Beryl are frequent visitors at the hotel, and Basil has recently begun a little romance with Betty – who also gets drawn into to the hapless Basil’s muddles.

Bit by bit the residents of the Frampton hotel begin to expound their own theories about what happened to Miss Pongleton, and two of them set off to investigate an unexpected lead themselves.

Murder Underground is the second Mavis Doriel Hay mystery that I have read, the other was The Santa Klaus Murder which I thought was entertaining enough though a little weak. This was much better and thoroughly enjoyable. Another winner from the British Library’s crime classics.

underground steps

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