Murder, London--Australia by John Creasey (1965)
The sublimely prolific John Creasey's thirty-third novel about Superintendent Roger West tales West on a globe-hopping jaunt as he tries to solve the puzzling case of two murders of passengers on the ship Kookaburra.
West is older now than when he first started out in 1942's Inspector West Takes Charge. He is still very much in love with his wife Janet, still live in the same house, his two sons are now on the brink of adulthood, and his blond hair has begun yo show some gray. but many people still remember and use his old nickname, "Handsome." West's reputation both within Scotland Yard and throughout the country is unchanged. He's a man who gets things done, one who tries not to be impatient with himself. Despite his rank, west is still a man who would rather risk his own life than that of one of his underlings.
Murder, London--Australia begins with the strangled body of an unknown woman in a boarding house in South Kensington, where she had registered under the name Mrs. Brown. It had quickly learned that Brown had been a false name, so West had arranged for the dead girl's picture to appear in the morning newspaper with a "Do You Know Third Girl?" tagline. Benjamin Limm, a thirty-five-ish sheep farmer from New South Wales soon identified the woman as Denise Morrison, who was traveling with her sister Doreen on the Kookaburra from Australia to Southampton. Limm had been a fellow passenger on the voyage. The sisters. both in their early twenties, had planned to spend a year hitchhiking across England and then the Continent, taking work where they could find it -- this was to be their "great adventure." How that Roger had a name for the victim, his next job was to find the sister. He did not know that Doreen Morrison had spent the last two weeks captured and drugged by a man named Jessouce the other passengers who had debarked at Southampton. One, Percival Sheldon, an Australian about to return home, collapsed and died just before boarding his plane. A couple at the airport had recognized him from the airport coffee counter. Sheldon was getting a coffee when a man appeared to bump into him and poke him with some sort of needle. Sheldon had died of digitalis poisoning. On a hunch, Roger had another examination made of Denise Morrisons body. She, too. had died of digitalis poisoning and had been strangled after death the disguise the fact.
Meanwhile, Doreen managed to escape her kidnapper and make it to a pay phone. She had reached West when Jessup caught up to her. Jessup was about to kill the girl; he had his knife drawn and was about to strike when Roger -- who found the lair by sheer luck and policework -- stopped him. But there was a second kidnapper, who knocked Roger out and escaped. Jessup, while in custody, committed suicide with a cyanide pill.
Jessup, it turns out, had been a hand on the Kookaburra. His real name was Barring, one of three brothers who had a grudge against Australia's Blue Star line, owners of the Kookaburra and more than a dozen other ships. Another of the brothers had been a steward on the ship and had struck up a romance with Denise Morrison, convincing her tp go to the boarding house and register as Brown, while he, as "Mr. Brown," would join her shortly. This was the brother who had killed both victims. Roger suspected the two remaining brothers would target other passengers who had traveled on the same voyage as Denise Morrison and Percival Sheldon. Then he found out that the Koala, a sister ship had sunk the year before, killing all on board. Also, one of the ship's officers had died mysteriously in Hong Kong.
The entire affair seemed to large for just the Barring brothers. Someone was out to destroy the Blue Star line, and that someone might be traced back to China. Chinese concerns owned a minority share in the line and rumors were that they wanted full control; certainly wholesale murder by the Chinese was not out of the question. The answers hark back to Australia and West journeys Down Under to find them. Along the way, he stops at various cities to meet with old friends. (It seems that the upper echelons of various police department form a circle of friends. Top cops from around the world know and like West; many have stayed in his home.)
Further attempts are made on Doreen Morrisons life. Attempts are made on West's life. Cn West untangle these webs of violence that threaten thousands and may spark an international incident? Of course he can. He's Roger West.
I've stated many times before that John Creasey is one of my favorite addictions. The Roger West stories rank a close second to Creasey's George Gideon series (under the J. J. Marric penname), IHOP/ Whenever I get my hands on a Roger West title, you've lost me for the entire evening.