The Dark Garden by Ernest Robertson Punshon (Gollancz, 1941) is the sixteenth book in the saga of police detective Bobby Owen. Owen started out as a police constable in London and made his way up the ladder of Scotland Yard and then left London for the rural environs of the Wychshire county police force. In this story he is still being regarded as an outsider by his police colleagues and is trying hard to fit into the office. His supervisor Colonel Glynne, chief constable of the county CID, is out on sick leave, which gives Owen charge of the office as well as responsibility for investigating any crimes that come to his attention. He is in no frame of mind therefore to tolerate much nonsense when a local farmer visits Owen one day, demanding action against a local solicitor who manages a trust for the farmer’s wife. The farmer regards the money as his own and he has plans for it, but the solicitor won’t release it. Owen explains to the farmer that no law has been broken and the farmer leaves angrier than when he arrived. A few days later he learns that the farmer has been issuing threats against the solicitor, and at least a few people are taking them seriously. Owen decides to let the farmer know that what he’s doing is actionable and consequently is pulled into the troubles of the decidedly dysfunctional solicitor’s office.
After the solicitor in question disappears and then is found dead, Owen identifies so many potential motives and so many possible culprits that he is overwhelmed. In addition to the unhappy farmer, the solicitor has entered into an extramarital alliance with one of his staffers, which has made one of the articled clerks deeply jealous. The solicitor’s partner would be happy to have the law practice to himself, and the managing clerk has been promised a partnership that has not materialized. The list goes on and on.
Because of all the suspects with valid motive and opportunity to commit the crime, the actual perpetrator isn’t clear until the very end of the tale, although I thought there was a strong case against him well before then. All in all, a solid Bobby Owen story. I was sorry not to see much of his wife Olive though, her managing around his work schedule and wartime conditions is always interesting.
This review is based on the Kindle version of the book, with an introduction by noted crime fiction historian Curtis Evans.