Cover Image: The Man Who Wasn't There

The Man Who Wasn't There

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Member Reviews

This was the first Johnny and Sally Haldar book I have read. I enjoyed the main characters, and the mystery was interesting. The secondary characters were a bit thin and uninteresting. This wouldn't be one of my favorite mystery series, based on this book, but I would read more books in the series.
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I found the mystery dull and strained with flat characters snd writing—I gave up a quarter the wsy thtough
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The Heldars are a very traditional family, even with the dabbling in mysteries that they do. They even conform to the roles of their genders for the most part, and despite that, Sally and Johnny are a team that one can cheer, even in this era. The book was written in the 1950s, and as with the others in the series, reading about the author and how these books found their way to be printed again was fun and a whole experience in itself. 
In this book, we find the couple in yet another stage of family life. They now are semi-sleep deprived parents who like the idea of a change in their routine. They speculate as people are wont to do, regarding slightly younger, single, family members' relationship status. As they rightly suspect, a younger cousin comes forward with information about the woman he wants to marry. All of this occurs in the first chapter itself to ensure our attention is well kept. This young woman is in trouble. The hows and whys are what they have to unravel.
It feels like a reasonably short investigation with a lot of leads and possibilities to follow. There's a steady drip of information that provides us with an emerging, changing picture of the deceased(obviously, there's one) and all the people who could have done him in.
I like the writing style, the picturization of the leading characters, the steadiness of them all. I believe there are more books to come in this series, and I am looking forward to reading them in a leisurely fashion.
I may not have mentioned anything about the plotline with regards to the mystery itself, and this is on purpose. It is not a large volume, and a significant part of it deals with the mechanics of the investigation and the elimination of suspects. It is something I feel is best encountered within the tale. It is not an exceptionally convoluted plotline, but the combination of factors make it a worthwhile addition to the series.

I received an ARC thanks to NetGalley and the publishers but the review is entirely based on my own reading experience.
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Sally and Johnny are surprised by their cousin, Tim.  He got the girl he loves to say yes to marriage but someone has killed her employer and the cops think it was her...
Agora Books and Net Galley let me read this book for review (thank you).It has been published and you can get a copy now.

The dead man was already on a walk to death because his heart was bad.  But someone shot him.

This turns into a deadly search for the killler.  As they go out asking questions and trying to determine who's telling the truth and who is not, The woman who agreed to get married is in danger.  Someone is trying to kill her.

There was resistance in France some families were involved in.  Could it be someone from that time?  As they search and ask questions, they get closer all the time.  Can they stop the killer in time?
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My habit is to give my take on the book without giving the broad description.  That part is already provided by the publisher.  

Now for my take.  I have enjoyed the series thus far but this one not quite as much.  The outline of it, the mystery itself, was good but there was too much exposition!  Way too many dry recitations of who they talked to, what they said, etc.; too much tell and not enough show this time around.  

Now for the positive.  I love these characters and how their lives together are progressing.  They have added a home in the country and a son.  I love how well they work together and complement one another.  I did, however, wish there’d been more of the bookshop and extended Heldar family members present. 

On the whole, it is still better written and more enjoyable to me than 90% of what’s being produced currently.  I will continue to anticipate more “found” manuscripts from this writer. 

Thank you to NetGalley and Agora Books for providing a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.
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I liked the story and the writing, but I felt cheated when the villain was unmasked. I guess that should make me like the story more, because I didn't guess the ending, but I felt cheated because I don't feel we had all the information - certainly not all the right information. Anyway, it was a fun (and quick!) read. Get yourself a copy and enjoy!
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Thanks to Angora and Net Galley for this ARC.  Another long forgotten author being brought back to the limelight.  Great series and so happy to hear unpublished manuscripts have been found.  Great characters and brilliant story telling, definite page turner
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worried that this may have been considered unpublishable by either author or publisher at or about the time it was written in the mid-1950’s. Needlessly. It does read more like an inter- rather than post-war novel, but by now has acquired a certain nostalgic charm.

The author seems to take for granted that the two previous Heldar-involved cases would be familiar to readers, and quite glosses over the cousin’s involvement in the first of these. Nevertheless, it works as a stand-alone tale.

Johnny is taken on by the victim’s mother to investigate privately, but insists on evidence and information being passed to Scotland Yard, which perhaps explains the tolerant attitude of the Inspector there - Yard detectives, especially Scots ones, are generally portrayed as dour and uncompromising.

Sally may here be relegated to a less active role because they have a young baby (although they have a most accommodating babysitter). The one time she takes the initiative on her own , she unearths a very useful clue.

Complications abound, with the victim being a WWII French Resistance operative, suspected of complicity in the death of a fellow Maquis; both his mistress and a female blackmail victim visit the house on the night of the murder; Johnny’s favourite cousin Tim’s fiancée had been the victim’s secretary, and becomes a prime suspect. The blackmail victim’s husband also entered the house, intending to beat up the Frenchman, but is chased off with a pistol similar to his own, which he then tries to throw in the river.

Johnny works it all out, and lays this before the Yard man, who is sceptical until one vital piece of evidence convinces him, and the murderer is rounded up.

One small niggle - the overuse of place-names for most of the characters.

Thanks to Crime Classics Advanced Readers Club for the opportunity to read this.
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Henrietta Hamilton was the penname for Denne Shepherd (1920-1995) and her mysteries were brought back into the public eye when Agora Books began reprinting them in 2020 (?). However, earlier this year it was revealed that Agora were going to be publishing at least 6 previously unprinted works from this author. The introduction to this story, written by the author’s nephew, explains that during her lifetime Hamilton only published four of her mysteries, between 1956 and 1959. Yet it has been discovered that she had in fact wrote 13 more. Today’s read is believed to have been written in 1956 and literary detective work has placed it as third in the Sally and Johnny Heldar series. The last of the unpublished titles was believed to have been written in 1964-5. It fascinates me that within ten years someone could have produced quite so many books, yet only published a fraction of them. It is suggested that changing tastes in crime fiction may have contributed to this, but it still seems strange nevertheless. 
‘The Man Who Wasn't There is the first of the recently discovered Henrietta Hamilton mysteries to be published and is part of the Sally and Johnny Heldar mystery series. People who get mixed up in murder cases must expect to be bothered. And so it is for amateur sleuths Sally and Johnny Heldar late one evening. It seems cousin Tim has found himself in a bit of a pickle: his fiancée, Prue, has reneged on their engagement after becoming a suspect in the murder of her unlikeable employer. Desperate to win her back, Tim pleads with the Heldars to help clear Prue's name. But Sally and Johnny find themselves perplexed by the Willow Walk murder. Filled with blackmail and plagiarism, wartime treachery and lying witnesses, the crime-solving duo have their work cut out for them. But will they be able to help Prue... or is she more wrapped up in the case than Tim realised?’
Overall Thoughts
In keeping with the other two mysteries I have read by Henrietta Hamilton, the opening begins well, setting up an interesting case for the Heldars to be plunged into. The Prue angle initially worried me as it looked like we were going to be faced with a young woman in jeopardy who feels she cannot reveal her damning secrets and then proceeds to act mysteriously for the rest of the book, making life unnecessarily harder for the detectives. The victim is something of a sensation fiction moustache twirling villain after all. Thankfully, though this is not the case, as Prue willingly opens up to Johnny and Sally.
By chapter 4 there are a number of strands in the case to investigate and with the mystery fleshed out in this manner, it feels like the sleuths have enough to follow up on. Like other Hamilton mysteries, there are links to WW2, which seems to cast a long shadow upon the lives of those in the book. This past may provide a key to the motive of the murder or show how the killer gained the skills required to do the deed. 
The police, in the main, work off the page and only appear occasionally. Sally and Johnny are therefore the primary sleuthing focus. They work together, sort of. They are often together when a suspect is questioned, but it is Johnny who does the questioning. Sally is more part of the subsequent discussions of the evidence. This is another mystery in which chivalry makes an appearance, (see my last review), and Johnny and Tim are very much of the opinion that you should ensure the safety of the ladies at all times. To that end, Johnny often tries to manoeuvre Sally out of some sleuthing tasks, which thankfully in this book she mostly squashes: ‘He wasn't keen to take Sally to Hampstead with him, but Mrs Williams, their daily, was willing to babysit, and Sally insisted on coming.’ 
Sally, moreover, does indulge in one spot of independent sleuthing, which leads to very important information being uncovered. However, like other cases they have been engaged upon, Johnny takes a very dim view of her acting alone, the chivalry principle at work, as evinced in the passage below:
‘When Johnny came in and heard Sally's confession, he was not pleased, and he became extremely Heldar. "I don't like your visiting suspects on your own. Please don't do it again." But he listened to her story intently and with understanding.’
Now if she was going off alone to an isolated country house to confront a killer without telling one then Johnny might have a point. As it is Sally goes around to someone’s house in town during the middle of the day, so his reaction seems excessive. There is a real sense that Johnny thinks Sally has done something worth disapproving of and the word ‘confession,’ almost makes it seem like Sally believes herself she was doing something inappropriate or something she should feel guilty about. 
Nevertheless, later on in the book Johnny does reveal the potential weakness in chivalry when he discusses with Sally, Prue’s story. Suspicion is still attached to her and Johnny cannot easily extricate her from it. After all he says that:
‘And we may note here that the whole tone of the story might have been deliberately calculated for its effect on a young man of Tim's temperament. A young, inexperienced, unprotected, and extremely attractive girl is the answer to Tim’s subconscious prayer.’
I like the final sentence as in some ways you could say it is Tim who is the young, inexperienced, and unprotected individual. 
At one point in the novel, it is written that ‘Johnny seemed to be making a habit of taking people and weapons to Scotland Yard’ and I think on the whole this escorting service is perhaps a bit overdone. It does become repetitive for the suspects to keep voluntarily unburdening their souls to the Heldars, so that they can then be handed over to the police to tell them. I appreciate that the author needed the police to be made aware of the information the Heldars learn, but I think if the amateur and professional sleuths worked more closely then this narrative stratagem could have been used more sparingly.  
Whilst the story starts well and the investigation successfully gets underway, I think by the 75% mark the story begins to lose some steam and I found one of Johnny’s light bulb moments came out of nowhere. It has a jarring effect on the plot and also makes the unveiling of the killer less well executed. 
Rating: 3.75/5
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Another great read from Henrietta Hamilton. I enjoy the Hedlar series and find I am drawn in immediately to the novel. There is plenty of intrigue and suspense and we got greater insight into Johnny as a character and the sense of responsibility he feels to solve the mystery. The plot is interesting with plenty of red herrings for the eager amateur reading sleuth to be side tracked by! 
I would certainly recommend this book to other readers and I hope some of the other books in the series, as yet unavailable, will also be published.
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This story set during 1956, well before the advent of modern communications and the criminal investigation techniques available now seems more reliant on the questioning of suspects and discussion by the detective of whether there is a case to answer. 
The Man Who Wasn’t There is the first of the recently discovered Henrietta Hamilton mysteries to be published and is part of the Sally and Johnny Heldar mystery series.

People who get mixed up in murder cases must expect to be bothered.

And so it is for amateur sleuths Sally and Johnny Heldar late one evening. It seems cousin Tim has found himself in a bit of a pickle: his fiancée, Prue, has reneged on their engagement after becoming a suspect in the murder of her unlikeable employer.

Desperate to clear her name and win her back, Tim pleads with the Heldars to help clear Prue’s name. But Sally and Johnny find themselves perplexed by the Willow Walk murder. Filled with blackmail and plagiarism, wartime treachery and lying witnesses, the crime-solving duo have their work cut out for them.
After Hester Denne Shepherd aka Henrietta Hamilton died in 1995, her nephews found the unpublished manuscripts of 13 books including four which feature her detective duo, the Heldars. 
This is the first of those to be published, and is designated the third in the series. As I have not read any of her books before and there are references to previous plots I found this book a little hard going. The style it is written in is difficult to follow as there seems, initially, to be rather too many characters and they indulge in many different conversations about aspects of the murder which without knowledge of the relationships left me adrift.
However, I persevered with the book and after a while I started understand the plot in particular to incidents during the Second World War and it flowed along very nicely and I enjoyed it. I shall look out for more of the books by this author. Recommended.
(Free review copy provided by publisher via in exchange for a fair review)
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This book was received from the publishers in advance, in return for an honest review. A missing manuscript found by the authors nephews has given us a new golden age type mystery..I have read a few of the authors previous books featuring her amateur detectives Johnny and Sally Heldar who met in the Heldar family rare and antiquarian bookshop. Now married with a baby they are surprised one night with a visit from Tim a cousin of Johnny's.
His new girlfriend Prue 'the girl he plans to marry' has become mixed up in a murder ,the victim being her employer who has been found shot to death in his home where Prue works as his secretary.Convinced she is hiding something he fears the worst and asks Johnny to look into it and hopefully clear her. It becomes clear that the victim was not a nice man and it is only his mother,a grand old Dame who shares his house together with the few servants, who has a good word to say about him.
Without wishing to give anything away or produce any spoilers ,it seems there are any number of people who would have wished him harm ,members of the french resistance with whom he worked during WW2 and who believe he betrayed them. Women with whom he was associated but who now appear to be his blackmail victims and of course if they're aware of whats happening their husbands who no doubt would want to stop his schemes perhaps by any means.
There follows a teasing mystery, red herrings false testimonies missing husbands all made worse as blackmail victims try to cover up whatever it is that has caused them to be victims. Prue is attacked one evening only to be saved by a mystery man who appears to be caught up in the affair somehow.
Miss Hamilton is a proper author in the golden age tradition no missing clues or revelations pulled out of a hat at the capture of the killer.All the clues are there if you can spot them.I admit I missed one of the biggest only noticing at the end that I had . Getting old. But this book like her others I have read is excellent.Her characters are well drawn ,no gaping errors in the plot and all the twists and turns you could wish for.I look forward to the release of the next find.
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I heard about this book from one of my mystery groups on Facebook .
It is always exciting when forgotten classics from the golden age of crime fiction are found and republished. This is a good one, set in London & written around 1956.
The plot shows skill with the clue puzzle mysteries and the many suspects makes for a entertaining read as you try fathom out who did it around the twist!. 
I enjoyed this and would look forward to discovering others. 
My thanks go to the publisher and Netgalley in providing this arc in return for a honest review.
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I really enjoyed this entry in the Johnny and Sally Heldar series by Henrietta Hamilton.  The Heldars are a likeable couple with a flair for detection.  In this book, Johnny’s cousin Tim needs their help. Tim is engaged to Prue, but Prue has called off the engagement because she is a suspect in the murder  of her  unpleasant employer.   The Heldars turn up several suspects and motives before the murderer is exposed. 
This is the fourth book that I have read in this series. This isn’t a very long book and i easily read it in one sitting. The pace is leisurely and the characters are well defined.  I hope there are still more books to come in this series.
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Thanks to Agora Books for a review copy.
I first ‘discovered’ Henrietta Hamilton through the Uncrowned Queens of Crime series produced by Agora Books and fell in love with Johnny and Sally Heldar - an unlikely couple of amateur sleuths whose ‘day job’ is working in the family firm of antiquarian booksellers.
I was very pleasantly surprised to find that some previously unpublished manuscripts in the series had been unearthed and were finally going to see the light of day over sixty years after they were written. Lovers of Golden Age fiction have reason to be grateful to Henrietta Hamilton’s nephews for unearthing these wonderful stories from their late aunt’s belongings and allowing them to be published. ‘The Man Who Wasn’t There’ is the first of these newly discovered stories and and is, like the others in the series, a total delight.
Johnny and Sally are dragged into the midst of a mystery by Johnny’s younger cousin Tim who has fallen head over heels in love with Prue, a young girl who has inadvertently found herself suspected of murder.
As always with these novels Henrietta Hamilton has provided us with a completely ‘fair play’ mystery and a cracking storyline which sees an unpleasant person dispatched with a single gun shot wound. There are, of course, no shortage of suspects and Scotland Yard, in the person of the amiable Inspector Innes, reluctantly allows Johnny and Sally to assist in the untangling of the mystery.
Although the story is a lot of fun, to me the most enjoyable experience of reading one of these books is the exuberance with which Henrietta Hamilton draws her characters and settings. It is easy to picture the unusual house at the centre of this tale, behind hedges which border the Thames. The victim’s elderly mother, his valet, mistresses and their husbands all spring from the page as, of course, do Johnny, Sally, Tim and Prue. It is sad that these were not published in the author’s lifetime as she obviously took great joy in writing them and sharing her vivid imagination. At the time more psychological novels were becoming popular and the days of the Golden Age were waning. I am so grateful that publishers like Agora books are giving those of us who love crime fiction from an earlier and perhaps more innocent time, the opportunity to read these novels at an affordable price.
This story is self contained and does not link to any of the other novels although reading the first in the series prior to this would give a better introduction to the regular characters. I never thought that I would be in a position to read a brand new Golden Age story written at the time and hidden for so many years. I can’t wait for more.
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The Man Who Wasn't There is a recently discovered mystery by Henrietta Hamilton, part of the Sally and Johnny Heldar series.  While I'm sure those familiar with Sally and Johnny from other books would especialy enjoy meeting them again here, the book stands alone. 
The mystery, and the Heldars, are part of the tradition of married sleuths like Agatha Christie's Tommy and Tuppence Beresford and the Lockridges' Pam and Jerry North.  However, here Sally is more of a "straight man" and sounding board for Johnny and, as someone new to the series, I wished she had taken a more active part and had been more vividly developed as a character in her own right.  But the cast of secondary characters, from  cousin Tim and his fiancée, Prue, to a mysterious former spy, are entertainingly and fully drawn and make for a satisfying read.  
This is a post-World War II tale, though the economic and other realities of that time seem to have little impact on the characters' day-t0-day lives.  However, taken as the light entertainment it seems to have intended itself to be, The Man Who Wasn't There is a success, and the other newly discovered books in the series to be released by Agora promise similar pleasures.
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Barely 3 stars.  I have tried three of these 'Heldar' mysteries now and have decided they are not really my thing.  I did finish this one though which is an improvement on 'Answer in the Negative'.  I am not sure why I cannot get into these mysteries.  I found the younger couple involved completely annoying and could not understand why anyone should want to marry the rather insipid 'Prue'.  Thanks to Netgalley.
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The Man Who Wasn't There by Henrietta Hamilton has some classic mystery elements:  all the suspects lie about something and/or don't admit everything.  Every suspect is painted to be the most likely suspect.  What bogs down the story for me is the stilted conversation.  When our heroes (Sally and Johnny Heldar) discuss the various likely suspects, they preach rather than exchange ideas.  And granted that this story is set a few years after WWII, there is a plethora of unregistered guns in every household.  When we aren't being treated to a long-winded theory, the story has some interesting twists.  But I am unlikely to reread this book soon.
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Henrietta Hamilton is an author I discovered recently through Agora Books’ Uncrowned Queens of Crime series. Hamilton (a pseudonym of Hester Denne Shepherd) had four novels published between 1956 and 1959, all featuring the crime-solving husband and wife team of Johnny and Sally Heldar. I have read two of them – Answer in the Negative, which I didn’t particularly enjoy, and The Two Hundred Ghost, which I did. When I was given the opportunity to read The Man Who Wasn’t There, I assumed it was another of the four books, but I quickly discovered that the circumstances behind the publication of this novel are more intriguing.

After Hamilton’s death in 1995, her nephews found some typed manuscripts of thirteen books that had never been published in her lifetime – including several more Sally and Johnny mysteries. This is one of them, made available at last by Agora Books. As one of the author’s nephews suggests in the introduction, it may have been changing tastes in literature that led to his aunt’s books no longer being published; by the late 1950s the Golden Age of detective fiction was largely over and The Man Who Wasn’t There does feel like a book written a decade or two earlier.

Johnny and Sally Heldar are a young married couple who run an antiquarian bookshop and are gaining a reputation for themselves as amateur detectives. Therefore, when Johnny’s cousin Tim discovers that his fiancée, Prue, is involved in a murder case, he turns to Johnny and Sally for help. Prue had been working as secretary to the murdered man, Mr Frodsham, who has been found shot dead in his study and Prue herself has become one of the suspects. Tim is hoping the Heldars can prove her innocent – and it certainly seems that there are plenty of other people with motives, including Frodsham’s mistress and her husband, another woman he was blackmailing, and some old enemies from his days in the French Resistance.

I like Sally and Johnny and it was nice to spend some more time in their company (although I do wish Johnny would let his wife take a more active part in the investigations), but I found the plot of this particular novel a bit too complicated and detailed for such a short book. I struggled to keep track of all the characters, what time they arrived at or left the victim’s house, what they were all doing during the war, even the number of different guns involved. Most of this information is delivered in the form of long conversations as Johnny and Sally ‘think out loud’ to each other or interview suspects, so you also need to remember who said what and to whom. Still, I think Hamilton was fair to the reader and gave us all the clues we needed to be able to solve the mystery.

I probably won’t read any more books in this series as I’ve tried three now and only really enjoyed one of them, but I can see from looking at other reviews that lots of people love her books so I hope the rest of the unpublished manuscripts find their way into print very soon.
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I can recommend this to lovers of the traditional, well-written detective fiction. I just found it slightly harder going than the others.
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