A terrific thriller from The Golden Age of the genre. Our hero attempts to rescue a compromising photographic negative of a European Queen from a gang of unscrupulous blackmailers. From the cool London nightclubs to Parisian hotels to the monasteries and castles of Switzerland…and a mysterious set of murders to be cleared up.
297 pages, with a reading time of ~4.75 hours (74,397 words), and first published in 1930. This DRM-Free edition published by epubBooks, 2015.
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Tiny Carteret stretched out a hand like a leg of mutton and picked up the marmalade. On the sideboard what remained of the kidneys and bacon still sizzled cheerfully on the hot plate: by his side a cup of dimensions suitable for a baby’s bath gave forth the fragrant smell of coffee. In short, Tiny Carteret, half-way through his breakfast.
The window was wide open, and from the distance came the ceaseless roar of the traffic in Piccadilly. In the street just below, a gentleman of powerful but unmelodious voice was proclaiming the merits of his strawberries: whilst from the half-way mark came the ghastly sound of a cornet solo. In short, a service flat in Curzon Street.
The marmalade stage with Tiny was always the letter-opening stage, and as usual, he ran through the pile in front of him before beginning to read any of them. A couple of obvious bills: three more in feminine hands which proclaimed invitations of sorts with the utmost certainty–and then one over which he paused. The writing was a man’s: moreover, it was one which he knew well although it was many months since he had seen it. Neat: decisive: strong–it gave the character of the writer with absolute accuracy.
“Ronald, by Jove!” muttered Tiny to himself. “And a Swiss postmark. Now what the dickens is the old lad doing there?”
He slit open the envelope, propped the letter against the coffee-pot, and began to read.
MY DEAR TINY [it ran]–
I know that at this time of year Ranelagh and Lords form your happy hunting-grounds, as a general rule by day, whilst at night you are in the habit of treading on unfortunate women’s feet in divers ballrooms. Nevertheless, should you care to strike out on a new line, I think I can promise you quite a bit of fun out here. At least when I say here, this will be our starting-point. Where the trail may lead to, Allah alone knows. Seriously, Tiny, I have need of you. There is not going to be any poodle faking about it: in fact, the proposition is going to be an extremely tough one. So don’t let’s start under false pretences. There is going to be the devil of a lot of danger in it, and I want someone with a steady nerve, who can use a revolver if necessary, who has a bit of weight behind his fists and knows how to use ‘em.
If the sound of this appeals to you send me a wire at once, and I will await your arrival here.
Yours ever, RONALD STANDISH.
P.S.–A good train leaves the Gare de Lyons at 9.10 p.m. Gives you plenty of time for dinner in Paris.
Tiny pulled out his case and thoughtfully lit a cigarette. A faint twinkle in his eyes showed that he appreciated the full significance of the postscript: Ronald Standish knew what his answer would be as well as he did himself. Even as the trout rises to the may-fly, so do the Tiny Carterets of this world rise to bait such as was contained in the body of the letter. And just because he knew he was going to swallow it whole, he played with it mentally for quite a time. He even went through the farcical performance of consulting his engagement book. For the next month he had not got a free evening–a thing he had been fully aware of long before he opened the book. In addition, such trifles as Ascot and Wimbledon loomed large during the daylight hours. In fact, he reflected, as he uncoiled his large bulk from the chair, the number of lies he would have to tell in the near future would probably fuse the telephone.
And at this period it might be well to give some slight description of him. The nickname Tiny was of course an obvious one to give a man who had been capped fifteen times for England playing in the scrum. But though he was extraordinarily bigly made, he was at the same time marvellously agile, as men who played him at squash found to their cost. He could run a much lighter man off his feet, without turning a hair himself. The last half of the war had found him in the Coldstream: then, bored with peace-time soldiering he had sent in his papers and taken to sport of every description, which, fortunately for him, the possession of five thousand a year enabled him to do with some ease.
That he was extremely popular with both men and women was not to be wondered at: he was so completely free from side of any sort. In fact, many a net had been spread in the sight of the wary old bird by girls who would have had no objection to becoming Mrs. Tiny. But so far beyond flirting outrageously with all and sundry he had refused to be caught, and now at the age of thirty he was still as far from settling down as ever.