CHAIM RAPHAEL in his latter days wrote, under the rather splendid pseudonym of Jocelyn Davey, seven detective stories featuring Ambrose Usher, an Oxford Philosophy don, writes H. R. F. Keating. They were written with evident pleasure: they gave equal pleasure to those of us, on both sides of the Atlantic, who had been brought up on the detective stories of the between-the-wars Golden Age of the art or who had came to delight in that era.
The books, however, were set firmly in the time at which they were written, between 1956 (The Undoubted Deed) and 1988 (A Dangerous Liaison), or in the years shortly before them.
Their author said of them that they 'all echo personal experience in some degree'. He found his detective was a person who could go with decent verisimilitude here and there about the world, or perhaps he contrived him so that he could. Thus two of his cases were set in the United States, a country which Ambrose Usher's creator once described as his 'recreation', and where he worked for the British Information Services, in New York, from 1942 to 1957. Indeed, recreation is a word that could be used of all the books. Their author said of the donnish Ambrose Usher that he was intended to be 'both erudite and entertaining', and so he is. The erudition shows in such touches as the clue in The Naked Villainy (1958) lying in Ambrose's interpretation of the biblical Jacob and Esau story, and in A Touch of Stagefright (1960) his key sleuthing is done among the shelves of the New York Public Library.
The entertainment Ambrose Usher gave us came largely from his reactions, pained or amused, to the different people coming under his benign scrutiny in the course of his adventures, one-idea anti- vivisectionists or resoundingly flat-footed FBI men. But Ambrose also had a strain of sharp wit of his own. It made each of the digressions, with which the books abound in the accepted style of the detective story of old, a particularly savourable pleasure.