25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 29

Deaths and Dolls

THE boss picks real precision workers for the project he has in mind in The Subject of Harry Egypt, by Daniel Broun (Gollancz, 15s.). Kenny takes excellent photographs, 'Zerby is a skilled sailor, Hans can fix anything mechanical. Con- tacts for tiny link-up jobs are networked over New York City. Maps and charts are zealously studied and special props are made to order for Harry's scheme. When Kenny gets instructions for his part in the operation, he realises that he's involved in something big, and illegal. But the precise nature of the goods he is to handle is kept secret and his curiosity firmly thwarted. As in Rififi, the fine suspense of this story builds up with the slow revelation of a complicated plan. The conversation is brilliantly 'observed and pin- pointed, like mimicry, but without the tedious nothings of real speech.

Leonardo Sciascia writes bitterly about a situation which Sicilians complacently ignore while mainland Italians are reluctant to interfere. His murderer in Mafia Vendetta (Cape, 15s.) is immediately known, but proof is inaccessible. Fear of reprisal keeps peasants and businessmen alike in a state of perpetual injured innocence. When, nevertheless, a determined policeman seems about to bring a Mafia leader to justice, influential politicians and landowners interfere and ruthlessly swamp his evidence. .1 he control of the Mafia is harsher than the dominance of a police state. It is absolute and remorseless. This is a grim book, fierce with satire and bitterness at an apparently insoluble problem. Passions mount during an ill-assorted house- party in Death of a Sardine, by Joan Fleming (Crime Club, 15s.). A gallant brigadier proposes to marry a nasty piece of German beauty who has the knack of making middleagers wild. Dis- approving of the match arc the brigadier's brainy son and a weedy undergraduate type who has been invited along out of pity for his dreary existence. It all happens at a Portuguese seaside resort which is mercifully free of the usual coloured awnings and characteristic sombreros. Nor are the natives—though quaint and primitive —unrecognisable as human beings. Death follows a drunken evening at the villa and it's not hard to guess who did it. The local police make enor- mous palaver with papers and chatter which fails to hide their incompetence. Some staunch British loyalties bedevil the investigations, but it all ends happily with the promise of tiny pattering feet.

Molly Malone was one of those lovely dolls who really made it to Hollywood stardom. But the gay life and flowing liquor had turned her head and her light faded from the firmament. The Dead Can't Love, by Judson Philips (Gollancz, 15s.), opens with news of her murder. Glamorous Cornelius Ryan is engaged to defend the husband who probably slugged her. Actors, producers and powerful newspaper columnists all make interesting witnesses because they're used to fabricating stories and bamboozling audiences. But lawyers like Corny and Jake aren't quite so gullible as the average film-goer, 'in fact they even query the evidence of fingerprints. It's a splendidly confusing case of identical golden girls.

Murder in an exclusive psychiatric clinic causes plenty of articulate comment by the professional people who work there, but it is left to the detec- tives to show the basic insight into character which leads to a solution. P. D. James has a cer- tain quiet humour which irradiates the excellent plot of A Mind to Murder (Faber, 18s.). We read of a fire 'apparently stoked with malodorous chunks of the publican's old furniture,' but the best interior is that of Sister Ambrose's Flack- type home. Twin artificial flowers grow from the telly aerials, while a crinolined doll conceals the telephone.

A battered body is found murdered in a wood, its face unrecognisable, in Maigret and the Lazy Burglar (Hamish Hamilton, 12s. 6d.). Simenon's hero sees a familiar tattoo mark on the corpse and reconstructs the whole story from there. Cuendet was quite a craftsman burglar. He would watch a house for weeks, raiding it only when occupied, brushing past people as they slept. Maigret has admired the skill of this strange character on previous occasions and determines to find his killer. His quest leads him to the lady with the hats, a quiet, dimply woman who fits well into the pussy-footed burglar's pat- tern of discreet daring. Meanwhile, with his other hand, as it were, but certainly not with his heart, Maigret is clearing up a violent bank-robbery. I don't share the general enthusiasm for Simenon, but find this an agreeable brain-teaser.

The enclosed world of a classical cruise ship provides a good atmosphere for feuds and ten- sions. Death Over Deep Water, by Simon Nash (Bles, 13s. 6d.), simmers with such petty dislikes. The little scraps among the tourists eddy above the crew's rivalrous preoccupation with protocol. Many people disliked Diana Acton, others envied her her large share of wealth and beauty, but no one had apparently harboured a murderous hatred for her. Luckily, Mr. Ludlow, lecturer and amateur sleuth, is on board and can initiate in- vestigations into Miss Acton's death. He is a diverting detective because of his predilection for literary digressions and historical analogies, but he is naughty about sitting on the answer and taunting us with our blindness.

A straightforward kidnapping case suddenly seems to go haywire in The Decorated Corpse, by Roy Stratton (Boardman, 12s. 6d.). Massa- chusetts police are flummoxed by a dead man they find floating on a lake in place of a missing child. His face is vindictively criss-crossed with lipstick as if the murderer had been more intent on vengeance than self-effacement. A fast-moving investigation turns up a neat complex of conflict- ing love-affairs and ancient unhappinesses, of which the child is an unwitting victim. This is good racy detection with plenty of unsavoury characters to confuse the issue.