Murder's A Swine

Written by Nap Lombard

Review written by LJ Hurst

Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung

Murder's A Swine
British Library Publishing
RRP: £8.99
Released: February 10 2021

Thank goodness for this re-issue of Nap Lombard’s second and final thriller: while I could remember the startling opening scene, I hadn’t remembered how good the whole was. And the ‘whole’ is a big whole because this is a book about things not being what they seem, so you can get twice your money’s worth.

Nap Lombard was a pseudonym for Pamela Hansford Johnson and her then husband, the Australian Neil Stewart. Her Wikipedia entry uses the American title for the book, The Grinning Pig, while his entry uses the British as the BL have done now. The principal characters are Agnes and Andrew Kinghof, a loving couple, in January 1940 (the days of the ‘sitzkrieg’ as the period was called before American newspapers coined the term ‘phoney war’), perhaps an idealized version of the Lombards’ themselves (they had two children but divorced in 1949: Pamela must have been pregnant with their first while she wrote).

Escaping from the cold and the rain a young ARP warden descends into a shelter made by lining a basement entry with sandbags to find Agnes already sitting there. She has locked herself out and is waiting for the return of the caretaker of the block and his master key. ARP precautions had begun as early as 1938 so by the New Year of 1940 such a shelter might be beginning to pong a bit as water seeped into the sand and down the walls. Even so, Warden Poplett thinks the malodour is stronger than it should be: he investigates and there behind the temporary wall is a decaying corpse. The police begin to investigate, but are handicapped at first as the identity of the corpse is unknown. Then the frightening begins, as a pig’s head appears at windows in the block of flats. Who is being frightened? Why? How is it that the offender is never seen, let along caught? How can he have reached so many places? The identification of the corpse and the possibility that a motive lies in a tontine of inheritance offers one approach, but then other motives appear. There is a gang of fascist-sympathisers who might be fifth-columnists; a young man whose alibi for a night is denied by an artistic young woman from Hampstead; two different pairs of ladies who live together (and in one case die separately), and these possibilities open and close and open again like a coral on a seafloor waiting to trap some unfortunate creature if not on the first attempt then at some time later.

Then another cause of confusion appears: Andrew has a cousin, nicknamed ‘Pig’, a senior officer at Scotland Yard, so there are two ‘Pigs’ in this story: the cousin, and the masked murderer with the lard, trotters and anonymous threatening messages.

The story takes advantage of the vagaries of the war: Andrew Kinghof, a captain in the army, appears and re-appears as his leave and then the pointless relocations of his unit allow him time off. The Kinghofs are middle-class enough that they rarely eat at home, so they escape the worst of rationing, but we learn about the consequences later when Agnes loses her host’s shopping during a visit to the country. Or consider that young woman in Hampstead – she is ‘artistic’, and the young man who claims he spent the night in her house claims it was innocently spent sleeping on the lid of her bath. Why would she deny his presence if she is ‘advanced’? There is an explanation, and it lies in the social mores of the time. And, finally, did you know that public performances of Punch and Judy were banned for the duration, but were allowed in private? Read Murder’s A Swine and you will discover the consequences.

When the time comes for the revelation of the murderer it is unexpected. E C R Lorac was to use the same plot point in one of her stories set at the end of War, with equal facility. Admittedly here it comes with a long confession, which is often a sign of weakness, but the details of how and why the murderer was able to appear in so many places are well done. There are references to an earlier adventure, which must be Tidy Death (1940), an incredibly rare volume unseen by me. The Lombards had a daughter in 1944, so their marriage seems to have continued for some time, which makes it a pity that they did not write more about the Kinghofs – Agnes, who manages to climb ladders and shimmy down ropes in barns, and survive biffs on the bonce on lonely roads in this adventure, could have found many more opportunities for excitement as the war went on.

But while we have Murder’s A Swine - we have cause for celebration.

Book Reviews
About Us
Contact Us

Privacy Policy | Contact Shots Editor