Margot Bennett was one of the most interesting British crime writers of the immediate post-war era, and although her career was not a lengthy one, her reputation survived thanks to the advocacy of Julian Symons, who was a fan of her work, and praised it in Bloody Murder. Like many people, I was led to Bennett's work in the 70s and 80s by Symons.
Her books were, however, hard to find. I did eventually catch up with The Man Who Didn't Fly at the start of the 80s, and years later I was commissioned to write an intro to it for the late lamented Black Dagger reprint series. It's a very good book, and I recommend it. I also found, after years of searching, Away Went the Little Fish, her second book, which features the private eye John Davies. But until recently I'd never come across her debut, and Davies' first case.
This is Time to Change Hats, published in 1945, but very definitely set during war-time, with references to the Home Gaurd, and a rural village invaded by evacuees. I'm very pleased with my copy, inscribed by Bennett to her agent, and marked "the first copy". But what about the story?
The first thing to be said about the book is that it's very well-written. Bennett was a class act, and she had a flair for phrase-making. The early pages are excellent. However, I have to say that before long the story begins to drag somewhat. Bennett herself commented that her idea was to mix mystery with comedy, but that the book was too long. It's an honest assessment. There is much to enjoy here, but the story isn't gripping, because the style is too discursive. However, it's an interesting book which shows a writer of talent learning her craft. Not a masterpiece, but certainly more sophisticated than most first crime novels of the period.