Vivian Ernest Coltman-Allen (1908 – 2006), known as Ernest Dudley, was an author, a screenwriter, an actor, and a journalist. He created the popular BBC radio crime series Dr Morelle that ran from 1942 to 1948 and the television series The Armchair Detective that ran in 1949. He wrote society articles for The Daily Mail in the 1930s. The Harassed Hero (Hodder & Stoughton, 1951) seems to be his fourth novel, although the bibliographies for this versatile writer vary. I learned about this book from Ward Saylor, the guiding light of the Crime Thru Time online discussion, who recommended it.
Murray Selwyn is obsessed with his health. He is convinced the slightest strain will undermine irretrievably his already fragile constitution. All he wants is to get to the nursing home for a nice long rest, which his doctor agrees he needs. After leaving the doctor, who no doubt considers Murray a lucrative patient, he fills prescriptions and purchases lozenges, throat sprays, digestive tablets, and other necessities, then finds a taxi to take him home. His long-suffering valet Twigg brings in his packages while Murray recoups from the stress of the trip. Amongst the parcels is a briefcase neither of them recognizes. Twigg opens it and out falls a pile of five-pound notes.
Thus, Murray’s unsought acquaintance with a group of forgers begins. The one who lost the briefcase tracks it back to Murray and retrieves it from Murray and Twigg at gun point. His erstwhile colleagues take umbrage at his attempt to keep the money for himself and catch up with him outside Murray’s building, knock him out, and return his unconscious body to Murray’s front hall. Twigg is aghast at finding what seems to be a corpse but Murray is still enraged at having a gun waved in his face a short time previously and only calls Scotland Yard to take the body away.
By the time Scotland Yard arrives, the thug has regained consciousness and disappeared, which results in an unpleasant conversation between the police and Murray, who has no corpse to show them, despite protestations that one in fact existed. They leave and the nurse who is to escort Murray to the nursing home appears, expecting a frail invalid instead of a tall strapping hunk. But the forgers realize the plates to reproduce the fivers are gone, and they return to Murray to retrieve them, involving not only Murray but his nurse and the rest home in their machinations.
This book is almost straight slapstick with bodies and bank note printing plates appearing and disappearing. Outraged matrons and absent-minded doctors add to the hilarity, punctuated with Murray’s wails about his pulse, his temperature, and his nerves. The counterfeiters, some of the ugliest customers I’ve encountered recently in the pages of fiction, offset the lighthearted tone. Great break from noir. Recommended.