|Geoffrey Weston & John Taylor
(creator: Thomas Brace Haughey)
|Geoffrey Weston is the peanut-chomping grandnephew of Sherlock Holmes and lives at 31, Baker Street, with his associate John Taylor who acts as his Dr Watson and narrates the stories. Weston has an "auburn goatee, tall, lanky frame and gaunt features" with "the air of an artist or, perhaps, of a college professor .... He's not particularly handsome, dresses very casually, and has been known to lose his temper a time or two". But he "has a twinkle in his eye and a talent for puns".
He also frequently prays." He is one of the few detectives who has been "born again" and the author uses him to try to convert not only other characters but the reader too, so it is no surprise that he "fights evil with a passion". He has "a deep sense of compassion" as he "is, you see, a Christian. Some years ago he investigated the mystery of the Cross, found himself guilty and accepted a pardon. That mystery solved the detective." To Taylor, he often seems "the last holdout for order and ethics in a world gone mad".
He had been educated at Oxford and had subsequently served in the Royal Air Force, but "didn't really find himself professionally until he set up shop at Number 31, Baker Street". How he had met up with John Taylor is not explained.
Thomas Brace Haughey (1943 - ) was a Fundamentalist Mennonite radio preacher, who became the English Program Director of the missionary radio station KVMV-FM in McAllen, Texas, and then the General Director of the Evangelical Latin League Mission and its branch, Firestone Productions. He received his Bachelor's degree from the University of Maryland in 1965, and a Th.M from Capital Bible Seminary in 1969. He carried out evangelism and youth work in Mexico and taught for a year and a half in a missionary Bible School. He edited a Jesus paper, wrote numerous articles and scripts and book reviews for broadcasting, as well as the six novels reviewed below. He was married with one daughter and lived in McAllen, Texas.
The Case of the Invisible Thief (1978)
Set, presumably, in the early 1970s, the picture it paints of London at the time is distinctly implausible, with a bullet being fired through Weston's window and no-one showing much interest. Also Weston's relationship with Inspector Filbert Twigg of Scotland Yard who does everything that Western tells him to without demur, defies belief. "Somebody's just taken a shot at us over here," Weston tells Twigg. "Would you please run and check on the Pinehurst employees and their families? Let me know if anyone is missing."And this is what the Inspector does, not even asking about the shot!
Inevitably some Americanisms creep in, as when Weston and Taylor "dove" to the floor and there are references to Inspector Twigg as the "Scotland Yarder". And the English have "take-aways" not "carry-outs". And an English "preparatory school" is not the same as an American one.
The way that the Christian message is dragged in seems a bit arbitrary, as when Weston suggests to Taylor,"Let's start off right on this case. Let's follow the evangelists' example and talk to Someone who understands human beings". And so Taylor prays, "When Achan stole silver coins and a bar of gold, you led Joshua, the first detective, to him. We ask your guidance as we investigate this affair at Pinehurst". And Weston gets involved in unlikely lengthy religious discussions with his suspects: "May I ask you, Doctor, why you don't believe in God?" he asks, and fills five pages with religious argument until eventually his suspect complains, "I did come here, after all, to discuss the investigation - not to become embroiled in religious speculation."
Yet it makes an entertaining story, helped along by the author's sense of humor, as when Taylor writes, "After giving thanks that the Lord had thus far protected me from my partner's cooking, we began eating". Oddly enough, Taylor later explains that Weston was "an excellent cook. My own talents lean more towards the eating." I like the way too that Western tells him, "If you find bottle marked 'CLUE', let me know".
And the plot, involving an ingenious scheme of becoming invisible with the aid of projectors and a back projection screen, is nothing if not imaginative - while the references to cloning seem quite contemporary. The awful puns on the other hand seem very dated: "Ah, Twigg!" says Weston. "You're just the sapling we've been looking for. We'd as leaf have Twigg as any tree in the forest."
The ending, involving page after page in which Weston addresses the assembled suspects, gets rather tedious, with Weston eventually confronting the criminal in capital letters: "IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST, I COMMAND YOU TO ANSWER. WHO ARE YOU?" The answer comes back in a voice that "began as a cackling giggle. Saliva dropped from between bared teeth. A haunting, grasping, hollow hiss breathed an ancient message: ' I AM LEGION, FOR WE ARE ... MANY'."
Inspector Twigg, right at the end, says, "I think I'd like to hear a little more about Jesus Christ". You may be sure that the author will not disappoint him.
The Case of the Maltese Treasure (1979)
Once again the English setting is not entirely convincing (no Englishman in the 1970s would have described another as Esquire, as in John Taylor Esq, or be likely to use such Americanisms as brownstones, tuxedos, and limey). But Weston (whose grandfather was Sherlock Holmes' brother, Mycroft) can reproduce some of Sherlock Holmes' tricks, as when he immediately identifies a duly impressed visitor as working for Lloyds of London. As he explains to him, "Your motor car out front has a parking sticker on its bumper, and I AM polishing telescopic lenses." And the way that Taylor had asked the visitor, "With which investigator did you wish to speak? There are two of us, you know," echoes some of the original Dr Watson's pride and pomposity.
The author's sense of humor still comes to his rescue as when Inspector Twigg explains that when the British Museum's chief of security (another Americanism) arrived on the scene of the robbery, "He discovered the Queen on fire and two display cases smashed". The Queen turns out to have been "a wax dummy dressed in the fashion of the ninteenth-century". And there's a nice moment, when Weston and Taylor first enter the British Museum and are surprised by a voice behind them saying, "May I help you, gentlemen?". They twirl round and "there in a recessed area by the door sat a very smug Inspector Twigg. He had his feet up on a guard's desk, his coat open, and a copy of Punch perched on his lap". However, it is not long before Weston is firmly putting Twigg back into his place: "You might have an expert check the computer system for tampering. I don't believe we'll be needing you any more here. Sir Thomas (the curator) can give us a guided tour."
Taylor's religious views can be distinctly off-putting, as when he meditates that the museum contained not only a copy of Tyndale's Bible but "the collected works of a million dead men and women. I wondered how many besides Tyndale were in heaven ... and how many were screaming in hell."
Weston has, the author tells us, an "uncanny knack for devastating opponents in debate". In fact what he more commonly does is browbeat them into silence, as when he ticks off an Anglican clergyman whom he wrongly describes as "Pastor" Cook, telling him, "You're entirely too open to new ideas. Look at these authors: Heidegger, Bultmann, Tillich. You've collected half the religious radicals of the last century! The book of Jonah isn't a parable, and you're strangling your congregation by teaching that it is. Explain away miracles, sir, and Christianity goes down the drain."
Taylor, meanwhile, tells us that "for the seventh or eighth time since beginning the investigation I had a heart-to-heart talk with the Lord". When Sir Thomas comes to dinner, it is no surprise to find that Weston starts the meal with a prayer about "the matter of Twigg - your proof to us that men can't be argued into repentance. We beg you to soften and burden his heart to your Spirit. Lord, bring him into your family." And when Sir Thomas congratulates them on "a beautiful prayer", Weston tells him, "No, it wasn't. It was merely a chat with my best friend."
The Case of the Frozen Scream (1979)
Weston solves the puzzle, as usual, and has a lot to say about Consoliodated Cyrogenics where the professor had worked and which experiments on chimpanzees in an effort to freeze people to keep them alive until cures for their fatal conditions have been found. Then everyone will be able to live for ever. "I think," Western says, "I prefer the immortality I've already got ... I'm talking about conversion, heaven, and a new, indestructible body .... If you want to live for ever, put your faith where it will do some good."
Weston thinks it very unlikely that the murdered would have been allowed to return as a ghost for there seems no logical reason that God would have sent him. "The incident doesn't ring true at all. And, of course, we don't even know that the man was a Christian. If not, he would be confined in escape-proof facilities I assure you." His arrogance seems as silly as the author's portrayal of an England sometime after 1976 having a King, a London full of fog and so-called English characters using such Americanisms as "He even counsels with students", "Good day and have a nice afternoon", "cookie-cutter classroom building, and " "headed downtown". And there is talk about a university "custodian", an address given, in the American fashion, as simply "317 Gaunt" and a description of a muffin as " ready for the jelly". And words like "freshman" and crematory" seem quite wrong. There are even anachronisms like "About as much chance as the Nazis have of winning a majority in Parliament".
There are still awful puns, as when Weston tells Inspector Twigg, "You're usually so earth-bound in your thinking, Twigg. Level-leafed, roots in the soil and all that. What ever induced you to go out on a limb?" But the author's sense of humor helps carry the story along at a brisk pace and, like all the others, it's a pleasingly short book.
So the story can just be read as fun - no bad thing, except that there are long passages that the author seems to expect us to take seriously, as when Weston embarks on a long justification of the evidence of Christ's Resurrection, largely, he points out, because each witness tells a slightly different story. And we are meant to take him seriously when he explains that "Good psychology leaves room for a soul in man. It is neither treats him as a computer nor as a mere animal. It sees social influences, but it holds everyone personally accountable for his actions." And when he tells ex-drug addict, student June Albey, that God "has an absolute set of laws. He has stoked up an eternal lake of fire for the wicked. And he is EVERYWHERE watching." So he is delighted when eventually she is able to tell him that she became a Christian "at 9.30 this evening".
Meanwhile another suspect has been stabbed twice in the back by a monkey using a poisoned knife. "You can't mean it " says Taylor. "By a monkey ... This case is getting more bizarre by the minute". But he arrives just in time to hear the dying man whisper that he is afraid to die but still cannot believe. "Yes, you can, old chap," says Taylor. "You can! Do it before it's too late."
The murderer turns out to be someone who had been kept frozen for four years "trapped in a transparent cube - a block of ice - screaming one long, frozen screen". Weston tells him, "Even Jesus sweated drops of blood while thinking of the pain involved in dying. But if I die it won't be to spend an eternity screaming. I am going to a warm, pleasant heaven where I can pass my days talking and laughing with people who love me."
As the author explains in his preface, "The detective novel, as Dorothy Sayers has observed, is the most moral of all tales. It does not glorify the perverse but rather exposes it - endorsing the biblical principle that a person's sin will find him out .... The sleuth is a representative of virtue. He battles against and ultimately subdues evil." Then, intriguingly, the author goes on to explain that "Even Geoffrey was not a Christian when he first took up fingerprint powder and magnifier ... it was not until later, as a result of his investigation into the strange disappearance of Jessica Worthington's corpse ( a story reserved for another volume). that he became a believer." But this other volume, if written, seems never to have been published.
The Case of the Kidnapped Shadow (1980)
No sooner has Weston launched his investigation than Salvador himself vanishes. While searching for him, Weston is told that a third abduction has occurred. This time it is Salvador who is accused of the crime. After discovering a welter of strange images on a TV screen, making a hurried call to the president of the United States, and following the path of a falcon that had been trained to pick up ransom money, Weston eventually assembles all the suspects together and solves the whole bizarre case.
It makes quite an entertaining story, despite Weston's appalling puns - and the Mexican background is of real interest, despite all the corruption and poor management that the visitors experience. "Lord," the narrator, John Taylor, breathed, "it would take only a few Christians in the government to make such a great difference in the future of this country. Please use us while we're here to plant some seeds." Obviously, any Catholics in the government don't count!
When Weston dresses up in a sports coat and tie, he tells Taylor, "I do not wish," he winked, "to be mistaken for an American tourist." When he arrives at the crime scene, he crawls all over the floor, inspecting it with his magnifying lens, getting Taylor to do the same. And he gazed "upward with an intensity that couldn't have been greater had he been Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel. Every square centimetre came in for close scrutiny". From what he notices he is able to deduce that "There were two kidnappers - one right-handed. They must have been known and trusted by the victim. And the right-handed one smoked. Aside from that I can deduce nothing."
Later, they go crawling over the grass and sidewalk too, and Weston comments, "Ah, my schoolteacher often said I'd end up in the gutter." All this is good fun, and the lively action, in which Taylor seems to play a bigger part than previously, certainly makes this one of the better books. And even a group of American druggies is described with some humor: "At the moment," Taylor tells Weston, "they're sitting on the floor, contemplating their navels and smoking breakfast. I've seen more intelligent eyes on fish."
When the druggies' leader threatens him with a knife, Western isn't afraid to stand up to him: "We're committed to love. And by that I don't mean some amorphic mushy slogan or 'sex trip'. We love Jesus and you, and He commanded us to tell you ... so we do. if you've got any complaints, you'd jolly well better take them up with Him ." For once, the religious message does not stick out like a sore thumb, although "jolly well" is not perhaps the likely of expressions.
Our two heroes, of course, neither smoke nor drink, but they do at least sometimes laugh at themselves, as when Weston seems very taken by the Mexican president's daughter (who had turned out to be another evangelical), although he had spent only four minutes with her. Inspector Porfirio Robledo (Taylor never seem sure which of his names to use, so often calls him by both on the same page) makes them laugh when he teases that "In four whole minutes maybe he has seen some great spiritual qualities in her, no?"
What is less happy is when Weston tries to pull apart a woman's belief that "Mary is the mother of God - that is, of Jesus. So she is able to influence Him to help us."
Taylor, the narrator, reflects on "Christ's brilliance in confusing His enemies and teaching His followers with the very same stories. Fiction seemed to me such an effective tool in communicating truth. ....I wondered in passing why so few Christian writers today followed Jesus as example." Perhaps it is because stories like Taylor's conversion of the druggie Maria, complete with advice on which books to read and how to find a suitable Evangelical church and even a Christian coffee house, sound rather too like high-pressure selling.
The author's sense of humor certainly makes his sermonising more palatable: Weston approves of June because "She's chirpy,intelligent and serious about Christian life". When Taylor tells her that she has "the face of a rosy-cheeked little girl", "Um," she smiled, "that's because I've been born into the family of God!" But she goes on to say, "You should have seen the wrinkles before - hideous. And I was all broken out in pimples that - ". Then the narrator tells us "My lips got in the way of her voice for just an instant. Well, maybe two instants." But unfortunately he does not leave it at that, but goes on to give us God's opinion too: "I'd picked a vivacious, super-animated screwball, and I knew it. So did the Lord. And He approved."
There is an amusing moment too when Weston interviews a Mafia boss, Mario d'Scarlotti, who tells him "Everybody she think that justa 'cause someone hava Italiano accent he's ina da Mafia!".
The mysterious message takes the two sleuths up to old Edinburgh where they, and we, have to cope with dialogue like, "O' course yel be wantin' ta dine there a' the Pompadour. They 'ave cullen skink t' warm yer insides, rumble-de-thumps, and haggis with chappit tatties and bashed neeps."
In their search for the writer of the letter, they find they can wander freely over a burnt down house which, inevitably, reminds them of "hell's desolation" and they launch into a discussion of hell and the different views of it presented by Milton, Dante and C S Lewis, none of which receive Weston's complete approval, but he is sure that as "sin is unspeakably evil to a holy God, so the Son paid an infinite price on the cross. Those finite creatures who refused the payment pay a little each day throughout eternity - in such agony they may not even have the opportunity to think evil faults."
Back in London, the plot thickens fast, only slightly marred by the author's use of such dated expressions as "Blimey" and his strange insistence on spelling "shop' as "shoppe". Taylor meanwhile assures Inspector Twigg, "You have to trust Jesus to be your owner and Savior. But you're way off if you think you have to reform your life beforehand as a condition for acceptance. Trust first, then He'll make the cleanup." Soon afterwords, Twigg tells them that "he has become a Christian" - although, oddly enough, that is all we hear about it.
Gilquist tells Weston that "We are a pitiful nation, my friend, overrun even at home by the inferior races we once conquered and ruled.They breed like rabbits, steal jobs from good Englishman and make the streets unsafe to walk on. If only Britain had permitted Hitler's invasion of Poland! Poland couldn't have been worse off than it is now, and the base would have given Germany a corridor for attacking Russia. That fool Chamberlain forced Hitler into fighting the West when he didn't even want to!" Weston, of course, enjoys taking him up on these arguments.
Then he returns to the matter in hand: the Inspector's fiery death. He decides that it could not have been due to hell fire or spontaneous combustion, but must have been a clever murder "probably by some sort of ray". And for once he is (almost) put in his place, being told by a young police officer that "Yard business is Yard business, and you really shouldn't feel entitled to share our confidential files. After all, your fee is being paid by a private client".
The final climax verges on the absurd, but the book is quite fun to read and is the best one of the series.
It really is the most unconvincing plot ever, with the whole future of Mexico and the USA under threat from terrorists, and seems even less likely than a previous case about which Taylor comments, "I doubt the Yard, unassisted, would have hit on the notion that trained dolphins were smuggling drugs across the Channel." And Weston and Taylor, who still use such dated and unlikely words as "jolly well", "old bean", "toddle along" and even "toodaloo", are still free not only to crawl over the ground to inspect it with their magnifying lenses, but to treat a dead body in the mortuary in the same way: "As the funeral director looked on, Geoff (Weston) began a close study of the upper legs, working towards the ankles. I cleaned my own magnifier with a paper towel from an embalming table dispenser and zeroed in on the head burns." And they make a revealing discovery: the corpse's shoes have been changed, and "What's more, the nail pattern isn't even close to matching the scars on the senator's feet".
There are signs of a break-in too, so Weston tells the funeral director, "You'd better phone the police .... Be sure to mention that the shoes were custom-made. That elevates the matter to grand theft and should assure us a more vigorous investigation." How Weston comes to know this is not explained. It turns out later that the missing shoes contained sensors that made the wearer into "a human lightning rod". And all other members of Congress had been offered similar shoes. It defies belief.
There was a five year gap between the publication of this and the previous book, and the author has slightly reduced the amount of direct evangelisation found in the eartlier books, but what there is still strikes a distinctly odd note - and it is all muddled up in a jokey sort of presentation. So when Weston finds they are being bugged, he says: "I have a nasty feeling that we are playing chess against someone who thinks several moves in advance. Perhaps we should make some illogical moves so he cannot anticipate us so readily."
The evangelical jokiness reappears when Weston explains to a FBI man who has described Taylor as a "fat man with a pistol he's never even test fired", that Taylor "is portly, not fat and I'd appreciate it if you at least made that distinction. He's also a crack shot. In a situation where you'd aim for the heart, it's his practice to fire at an arm, leg or shoulder, pounce on the beggar once he's fallen, and preach to him about Christ until the ambulance arrives."
The story does have its amusing moments, including one when a supposed Jehovah's Witness comes to call on our two Evangelicals.They try to put her right when she insists that "The whole idea of the Trinity is so nonsensical that I don't see how any rational person could accept it. Three doesn't equal one. There can't be three infinite gods were somehow united. God isn't some multiheaded monster, and he certainly can't be one yet more than one at the same time."
Generally, however, the story is not at all gripping, and you don't feel involved in what is going on. It ends with Weston, who last had a girl friend when he was 15 years old, planning his marriage to the President of Mexico's daughter in a year's time. As he explains, "A delayed marriage with presidential blessing .... will do far more to favour the evangelical cause in Mexico than an argument followed by an elopement." Taylor (whose own love affair with Jane Albey which had amounted to three dates a week and a skiing holiday with her brother, seems quite forgotten) is told that, "You can live in the second-floor apartment while we stay downstairs." But Weston explains that his new wife will want "to help us out from time to time on our cases. I believe that observations from a woman's perspective could prove invaluable in our line of endeavor". It sounds as though the author did not realise that this was going to be the last book in the series.
|The Baker Street Mysteries were published by the Christian Evangelical self-publishers, Bethany Press. Another of their authors was Dudley J Dellfs.|