The first story in the collection concerns the sudden disappearance of an artist from his studio. The policing is not particularly thrilling but the story does make use of a rather macabre idea quite effectively.
The second story is also art-themed and follows PC Bragg as his interest is caught by some behavior on the part of some artists that he finds odd. I did not find any of the developments surprising and the low stakes nature of this case makes for a rather underwhelming read.
The Ham Sandwich
Another rather dull case in which Bragg, newly transferred to a post in the country, becomes obsessed with the idea that thieves will try to rob one of the few large houses in the area. The discovery of a sandwich only makes him more sure of his suspicions and we follow him as we see things play out.
The highlight of this story is a little humorous dig at Lord Peter Wimsey but the mystery itself is quite uninspiring and were you to skip this story you wouldn’t be missing out.
Set at a horse race, this story sees Bragg following his instincts after he observes a bookmaker seem to get threatened by two shady characters. There is no mystery at all here – it is purely a procedural adventure – and the story offered little of interest to me.
Bragg notices two men showing curiosity in some army maneuvers and makes enquiries. This story is entirely procedural but told fairly well although Bragg once again doesn’t really solve things himself. Once again, the reader will likely be far ahead of the sleuth.
A Puff of Smoke
In this story, one of the better efforts in the collection, Bragg becomes interested in the idea that criminals might try and steal a porcelain work’s secret formula. What elevates this story for me and adds interest is the way it resolves which breaks from the more direct style of the preceding cases. I also thought that the story’s final imagery, which this title refers to, is quite effective.
Bragg, newly transferred to a new district (Downton), becomes sure that a local Railway’s large reserve of coal would be a target for thieves but the management insist it can’t be stolen. When Bragg learns of a large quantity of cut-price railway coal being offered he is sure it is being stolen but the question is how?
An excellent procedural story that actually poses a puzzle for its readers. Should the British Library ever issue a second volume of railway mysteries (the first is here) I would hope they consider including this one.
Toll of the Road
While you might not expect working traffic duty to provide the most interesting backdrop for a crime, this story about what appears to be a hit and run involving a young woman is surprisingly engaging. There is some clever thinking on display from Bragg both to figure out what happened and how to prove the killer’s culpability.
I will say that while I enjoyed much of the plotting, Wade’s casual use of a racial epithet as a description early in the story left a bad taste in my mouth and keeps me from highlighting this more.
It is hard to explain what this story is about without giving the whole thing away. I can say though that it revolves around a suspicion of arson and Bragg has to use his powers of observation to figure out how to trap a criminal.
It is a solid story that I think illustrates Wade’s idea that policing involves noticing little details and making connections between seemingly unrelated events.
The Little Sportsman
This story opens with Bragg following a suspicious character into a garden when he appears to disappear. Noticing an open window, Bragg disturbs the homeowner and requests to search inside to make sure they didn’t enter.
I liked this story a lot, in part because of the way it evolves. While many of the stories in this collection unfold in quite a straightforward way, I felt that The Little Sportsman had a few genuinely surprising reveals and that it turned out to be a highlight of the collection.
I tend to enjoy detective on holiday stories and this is no exception. Dispatched to a lodging house for two weeks of rest and relaxation with his wife, Bragg cannot resist getting involved when another lodger reports having been woken by a beam of light in the middle of the night.
I found this to be well-plotted and felt it did a good job of giving us more of a picture of Bragg’s life as a whole. The best thing about it though is that finally this collection gives us a detective story with multiple suspects!
One Good Turn
This story is set immediately upon Bragg’s return to Downton where he finds some of his peers are feeling resentful of his success. Meanwhile he is determined to finally nab a porter he suspects of thievery…
The case here is really a procedural adventure and, as those go, is a pretty fair example of the form. I was much more interested in the depiction of the tensions with his colleagues and the way Wade explores those in this story.
Smash and Grab
The final story sees Bragg transferred back to London and working for the CID. He is part of a team that responds to a smashed window at a jewellers’ shop only to find that nothing was taken.
There are some solid, if simple, deductions on display and a few interesting developments add interest to the case. Though it is unlikely to blow readers away, it is one of the better stories in the collection and ends things on a relatively high note.