Francis Durbridge’s first Paul Temple radio serial for the BBC having been a great success in 1938 it was not only inevitable that more would follow, but also that the character would cross over into other media. Eventually there would be a series of films (including Calling Paul Temple), a comic strip and a television series. And in 1938 came the first of the Paul Temple novels, Send for Paul Temple.
Paul Temple is a journalist turned successful crime novelist. He has in the past assisted Scotland Yard, quite unofficially, in several investigations (and with considerable success). Now Scotland Yard is facing a new challenge. A series of daring jewel robberies in the Midlands have created a sensation in the popular press. There are those at the Yard who suspect that these are no ordinary crimes - that there is a criminal mastermind behind them.
A couple of minor members of the gang have met with sudden and very fatal accidents. It seems that if there is a large criminal organisation behind the robberies they are quite prepared to resort to murder to keep their secrets.
A press campaign has been started, demanding that the Yard should ask for Paul Temple to help them once again. Sir Graham Forbes, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, is less than enthusiastic but soon he may have no choice.
The press campaign has been largely orchestrated by a young female reporter, Steve Trent (a character who will become a very important figure in the Paul Temple stories).
Eventually of course Paul Temple is sent for. There is one interesting clue - just before his death one of the murdered gang members mentioned The Green Finger. But who or what is the Green Finger? The answer to that clue will be provided by an elderly spinster with a special interest in old English country inns.
While there is a mystery plot here this book is more a thriller than a whodunnit, and it belongs to the more lighthearted school of British thrillers. The plot is impossibly (but enjoyably) complicated, the dialogue is fairly witty, there is a considerable leavening of humour and a definite hint of romance. And being a British thriller of the interwar years you can guarantee that at some stage the heroine will be kidnapped by the villains. There are secret passageways, there are links to crimes in the past, there are characters who are not what they appear to be - there are in fact all the usual thriller ingredients. What matters is that they’re combined quite skillfully and the pacing is pleasingly brisk.
Paul Temple is a fairly typical English thriller hero. He owns a small country estate, he has a faithful manservant, he is a well-educated member of the upper middle classes, he is moderately wealthy and a connoisseur of the finer things in life. He lacks the ruthlessness of a Bulldog Drummond or the debonair gaiety of a Simon Templar but in his own way he’s an engaging and colourful enough character.
Steve is the right sort of heroine for such a book - she’s brave and intelligent and generally sensible and she’s very determined.
The identity of the main villain is not disclosed until the end of the story but Durbridge is able to make him a suitably menacing offstage presence, and there are some fine subordinate villains to keep things bubbling along until he makes his appearance. There’s also a beautiful but deadly woman - another essential thriller ingredient. The improbabilities of the plotting are assets rather than liabilities - the emphasis here is very much on fun.
Durbridge doesn’t quite have the panache of a Leslie Charteris and there’s not quite the sense of breathless excitement of the best Bulldog Drummond tales but this is a fine thriller of the second rank and fans of British thrillers of this era should be well satisfied. Send for Paul Temple is very solid entertainment. Recommended.