Joyce Porter : Dover 3 (1965)

The inimitable Chief Inspector Dover is dispatched to the dismal village of Thornwich, accompanied by the long-suffering Sergeant MacGregor, to investigate an outbreak of poison pen letters. For once Dover is actually happy to leave the comforts of London and home as his sister-in-law has come to stay. Dover proceeds to prolong the case for as long as she remains in residence, blundering about and spending as much time as possible in bed. Having upset all and sundry the explanation of both the letters, and a death which occurs during the course of the book, are finally revealed to him by the culprit; it is however a story which Dover is only too happy that he can keep to himself.

The great joy and pleasures of a Dover book are of course in Dover himself. He is one of, if not the, greatest comic creations in mystery fiction. As such the appeal is necessarily an individual one; it is quite possible that for some readers the comedy will escape them. If this is so then not all that much is left. If however you find every belch, fart, evasion, bluster, every act of gluttony, stupidity and sloth intensely amusing then any Dover book will be a solace and comfort. One extraordinary thing about the books is their timelessness. I suppose this is because humour of this kind does not date. It is hardly sophisticated but it certainly does not age. But above this the whole idea of a policeman like Dover is somehow very modern. Of course Porter is not a Golden Age writer ; Dover’s career ran from 1964 to 1980 and therefore belongs to that twilight period between the end of the Golden Age and modernity. But the books have a classic construction yet a modern feel due to their sheer irreverence.

Having said this it must also be said that the quality of Porter’s plotting was variable and it must be admitted that in the case of Dover 3 she is not at her best. The basic plot idea is one used long before by Christie for one (in The Moving Finger, though no doubt there are other examples) and the villain, if not his exact method, are fairly obvious from some way out. Nonetheless it is not for the plot brilliance that one reads a Dover book and aficionados will be more than happy with the great man’s inactivity here. If you have never tried a Dover book then you should most definitely do so. Not only he is inimitable but if you do find him funny then you will find him very funny indeed.

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