Answer in the Negative – Henrietta Hamilton – review

Johnny and Sally Heldar are the investigative couple in this, one of four novels featuring them, from Henrietta Hamilton. All four books were written in the 50s and this one, at least, has been reprinted by Agora as part of their Uncrowned Queens of Crime series.

The action in this book revolves around work in the National Press Archives after World War II. Frank Morningside, an assistant archivist, has been receiving poison pen letters and someone is also pulling pranks on him. His boss Toby calls on amateur sleuths Johnny and Sally to look into it. Posing as researchers, they snoop around a bit. Once Morningside gets his head bashed in – by a box of glass negatives -Scotland Yard is called in. Chief Detective-Inspector Lindsay is nominally in charge of the case, but we know that Sally and Johnny will solve it. The list of possible suspects is not terribly long, but they are amusingly drawn, and each is worthy of at least a look by the duo.

The perpetrator was not a surprise to me (according to the ebook, I figured the thing out at 49%), but finishing the book brought me back to my very young days when Agatha Christie was the only real mystery writer I knew.

Those with modern sensibilities may be aghast at how much smoking there is (or, for younger readers in the aughts, why they’re allowed to smoke inside) or just how slow the book feels. Keep in mind that this was written in the 1950s, and people didn’t have the equivalent of a supercomputer in their hand all day long. There’s something to be said for people intelligently discussing something without being able to bounce on to wikipedia when there’s a question.

Overall: three stars, as I felt things could have been tightened up a bit.

Thanks to NetGalley and Agora for the reading copy.

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