Published by The British Library
Publication date – 10 February 2021
Source – review copy
‘“I should imagine this was murder, too, because it would be very difficult to build yourself into a heap of sandbags and then die…”’
In the blackout conditions of a wintry London night, amateur sleuth Agnes Kinghof and a young air-raid warden have stumbled upon a corpse stowed in the walls of their street’s bomb shelter. As the police begin their investigation, the night is interrupted once again when Agnes’s upstairs neighbour Mrs Sibley is terrorised by the sight of a grisly pig’s head at her fourth-floor window.
With the discovery of more sinister threats mysteriously signed ‘Pig-sticker’, Agnes and her husband Andrew – unable to resist a good mystery – begin their investigation to deduce the identity of a villain living amongst the tenants of their block of flats.
When Agnes Kinghof discovers a body in an air raid shelter she’s more intrigued than shocked. The man appears to have been murdered and so Agnes and her husband Andrew decide to find out who the murderer is. Could the murder be linked to the pranks that have been occurring in the Kinghofs block of flats? Someone has been terrorising their neighbour, Mrs Sibley, a pig’s head knocking at her window. The Kinghofs are determined to find out who is behind the incidents.
Murder’s a Swine is a rediscovered Golden Age crime novel written by Pamela Hansford Johnson and Gordon Neil Stewart, a married couple who wrote under the name Nap Lombard. There is reference to their first novel and the first investigative jaunt for the Kinghofs, Tidy Deaths, but Murder’s a Swine is a standalone so can be read without having read Tidy Deaths.
Set during WWII, the threat of war is somewhat softened here. There is the threat that Andrew will have to be deployed but so far he comes and goes between stints training troops in England. There is mention of blackout blinds and rationing but other than that things appear to be as normal. Apart from the body of course and the pig’s head.
Agnes’ enthusiasm for investigation is hampered by the officer in charge, the unusually monikered Inspector Eggshell, who learns to accept the Kinghofs’ interference with something bordering good humour. Andrew’s cousin, a bigwig in the police force, however is not as encouraging, possibly because his nickname is Pig. Pig however has a soft spot for Agnes and she uses this to her advantage on more than one occasion.
The mystery itself is engaging. There’s a locked room feel to it, as much of the action revolves around the block of flats and the residents. There are clues here and there that the reader can follow to work out who the culprit is pretty much at the same time as the investigators do. There’s not much to tax the brain but that is part of the fun. It allows the reader to sit back and relax and follow in the wake of the intrepid Agnes and Andrew.
There is something wonderfully beguiling about this series. The reader feels that they are discovering treasure in stories that have faded from memory, only to be re-introduced to a newer audience in a world that looks very different. As well as entertainment, they allow us to have a glimpse into the everyday lives of people living over 80 years ago. It’s easy to imagine these Golden Age crime novels being eagerly read and passed from friend to friend or borrowed from the lending library.
The overall feeling I had when I was reading this book was how much fun it was. There’s a hint of amusement, of stifled laughter by Agnes and Andrew, enjoying their amateur detecting. The fact that the police officer in charge is called Eggshell, and his boss and Andrew’s cousin has the nickname Pig, shows that the authors had as much fun writing it.
As ever when finishing a British Library Crime Classic, I’m eager to see what other gems the series has in store.