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Murder's a Swine by Nap Lombard: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: Murder’s a Swine

Author: Nap Lombard

Publisher: British Library Crime Classics

Format: Print, audiobook, ebook

Genre: Murder mystery

Publication Date: 2021

Star Rating: 4/5

Nap Lombard was the pen name of husband-and-wife writing team Gordon Neil Stewart and Pamela Hansford Johnson.

They published two murder mysteries together, the first being Tidy Death.

Murder’s a Swine features several of the same characters, although crucially for this genre the story is entirely self-contained.

The story opens in the early part of World War Two, when comparatively little was happening in Britain.

This was called ‘The Phony War’ and, perhaps more amusingly, the ‘sitzkrieg’ to reflect how many people were left sitting and waiting for something more substantive to begin.

Agnes Kinghof and her husband Andrew personify the boredom and inertia that many people felt during those months.

On the night that Andrew returns to London on leave from his camp, Agnes and their local ARP warden have just discovered a decomposing body hidden behind the sandbags in their air-raid shelter.

This is an atmospheric beginning to Murder’s a Swine.

Agnes and Andrew have quite an interest in murder mysteries, and they soon elicit from a neighbour that the corpse is probably that of her estranged brother.

Most of the attention in Murder’s a Swine remains focused on the tenants of Stewarts Court, Block Three. Several of the flats are vacant, but one is occupied by the victim’s sister Mrs Sibley and her friend Mrs Rowse.

The two women live in the flat immediately above the Kinghofs. Their other neighbours are the medical student Felix Lang, the civil servant Mr Warrender and an eccentric French lady called Mme Charnet.

In this way, Nap Lombard provides us with a shortlist of the limited cast of suspects required for any effective murder mystery.

The Kinghofs also attempt to solve the mystery of a pig’s head appearing outside Mrs Sibley’s window and to answer why lard has been smeared on the door handle of Mrs Sibley’s flat.

These pranks are soon followed up by more efforts to frighten Mrs Sibley, and it becomes apparent to the Kinghofs that the murder and associated pig-related matters both have a family focus.

Other members of Mrs Sibley’s family become involved and attention turns to who might benefit from her death financially.

The Kinghofs are then able to narrow down the suspect to one family member and must attempt to identify which of their neighbours might be this person in disguise.

I really liked how focused the location and characters remained. Everyone under suspicion was either a Sibley relative or a neighbour (or both).

There was still space for some romance, and Agnes and Andrew were indefatigable in their efforts to find the murderer.

Their efforts were initially discouraged, and then grudgingly accepted by the detectives involved, in the best tradition of murder mysteries.

The family focus continued in the police sphere because Andrew’s cousin, nicknamed Lord Pig, is with Scotland Yard. Pig can’t abide Andrew and he wants the Kinghofs to keep clear of ‘his’ murder.

I really felt how atmospheric the setting of Murder’s a Swine was. A small block of flats with a limited number of tenants makes a great cast list of suspects. Everyone knows each other just enough to have opinions on whodunnit, and it is easy for the amateur detectives to keep tabs on everyone.

There was a light-hearted tone to the book that probably served it quite well when it was published in 1943. At this point, the war was in full swing and readers longed for the happier memories of the early months when the danger was very limited in Britain.

Time and the realities of war had caught up with readers by 1943 when Murder’s a Swine was published, and indeed it was to do so with Nap Lombard as well.

The couple divorced in 1949, having seen their marriage come under strain as a result of long periods of separation during the war years.

Both went on to success in other areas after the war, with Pamela in particular doing well with her literary endeavours. However, the Stewarts’ collaboration on murder mysteries lay behind them, leaving Murder’s a Swine and Tidy Death to represent their talent for the genre.

This was a cracking story. The cheerful tone might seem a little odd to modern readers in the face of multiple deaths, but the context of the time explains this and the plot was very strong indeed.

Thank you for reading my review.

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John C Adams Reviews Murder's a Swine

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