Friday’s Forgotten Book: Safe Secret by Harry Carmichael

Leopold Horace Ognall (1908 – 1979) wrote nearly 100 novels under the names Hartley Howard and Harry Carmichael. He was born in Montreal and worked as a journalist before starting a career in fiction. He published a lengthy series featuring Glenn Bowman, a New York private detective, under the name Hartley Howard, and another one with John Piper, an insurance investigator, and Quinn, a crime journalist, under the name Harry Carmichael.

In Safe Secret (Macmillan, 1964) dull quiet Richard Thornton’s wife reported him missing early one morning. Supposedly he was working late but at 2:00 A.M. she certainly expected him to be home. Everyone was convinced that he had met with an accident until his employer checked the office safe at the urging of the police and found 35,000 pounds also missing (2019 equivalent 703,400 pounds or about 879,500 USD). Further investigation revealed an attractive woman in the office who later resigned had displayed considerable interest in Thornton. The local pub reported seeing them together, and the police were confident the two had run off to the continent. The company’s insurance firm had no intention of paying out that sum of money without a thorough investigation, however, and sent John Piper to look into matters. His sometime journalist partner Quinn sees a story and starts delving into Thornton’s activities. Since both of them find information about Thornton but don’t see fit to share it promptly with Detective-Superintendent Hoyle, who is in charge of the case, Hoyle is pardonably annoyed with them both. Some of their exchanges are among the best bits of the book.

Anonymous letters and an unexpected corpse throw spanners into the investigation, which becomes a homicide instead of a disappearance. The plot is complicated and full of misdirection on almost every page, especially the elaborate set-up at a hotel to throw the police off Thornton’s trail, which is ingeniously done. An interesting read, I will watch for more books by Carmichael to come my way.

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