I'd been eyeing up the Pan reprints of the Robert Barnard books when Harriet Devine and Elaine at Random Jottings both said good things about him - so I promptly bought them, and after only a few months (which all things considered is still quite prompt) read them.
The first thing I feel I have to say about 'The Case of the Missing Brontë' is that the cover is lovely, and clearly designed to appeal to people with a penchant for vintage crime (people like me) but I'm not sure it's entirely representative of a book written and set in the 1980's. I'm mentioning it because (for no very good reason) I've spent quite a lot of time trying to imagine what a contemporary take on a 1980's book cover should look like - I still have no idea.
The second thing to say is that every good thing I'd heard about this book was bang on the money. I loved it. So much so that I've had a mini Barnard binge. Briefly, Superintendant Perry Trethowan is returning to London with his wife and child after a family visit in Northumberland. When the car breaks down in Yorkshire they find themselves put up in a B&B and taking refuge in the village pub - where they meet Miss Edith Wing, she has a very interesting manuscript in her possession. One which just could be a lost second novel by Emily Brontë.
I'm no Brontë expert, but as Barnard seems to have written a book about them I'm assuming he was, and from the little I do know his plot as regards a lost manuscript holds together, and so does what happens when news of its possible existence spreads. There are greedy relatives who want to get the goods off of Miss Wing, greedy academics who see a chance for glory with a good bit of money thrown in, greedy collectors who are prepared to splash the cash, and some very nasty thugs who enjoy their work a bit to much...
The third thing I want to say about this book is how interesting I find the way it's aged. Written around 1983 this is a Britain I sort of remember - I would have been about 10 - the cultural references are familiar, the humour reminds me of Blackadder and Not the Nine O'Clock News. It's old enough to have a faint patina of nostalgia, and it also shows me (again) that I much prefer a book that's had time to settle - or to rise back to the top (like cream in milk) if that makes more sense. What made this one particularly irresistible, apart from the Brontë connection (which is appealing) is the glimpses of the Trethowan family - they're a cross between the Mitfords and the Sitwells with added eccentricity.
It's gloriously silly in places, and very funny, but with a thread of threatened, and actual, violence that seems very much a part of an era of miners strikes and IRA bombings and which very effectively grounds the plot in a slightly uncomfortable reality. Basically it was a total treat.