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by Pamela Branch
Rue Morgue Press, February 2006
158 pages
ISBN: 0915230895

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

LION IN THE CELLAR is the second novel of four written by Pamela Branch in the 1950s, and this is its first publication in the USA.

The story is set just off the Kings Road in West London and centres on a pub called the Carp. The Carp is run by Mrs Filby who lives in a war-like state with her barman Mr Tooley, who is perpetually drunk from finishing off customers' drinks, and convinced that he has an evil marmoset attached to his neck most of the time.

Their neighbours and customers are all rather eccentric too. They include an artist who often turns up with pyjamas showing under his top clothes, and always ensures he never buys a drink for himself, a boring inventor, some cleaning women with medical afflictions which occupy their entire conversation, a burglar, a former lion tamer and the undertaker from next door.

The problems begin when George Heap a seemingly respectable old gent, but in fact the notorious Silk Scarf Strangler currently being sought by the police, pays a visit to The Carp to meet his niece Sukie, whose house backs on to the pub. He makes himself scarce when an occasional patron, a blackmailing vet called Bentley shows up and insinuates to Sukie that unless she pays up he will disclose to her neighbours that her mother is mad killer living in an institution and her grandmother is a famous axe murderer depicted at Madame Tussaud's. Sukie's husband Hugh Chandor tells him to go away, George Heap returns and everyone agrees Bentley needs sorting out.

So begins a mad crime caper as Sukie discovers Bentley's body and can't remember whether she killed him, and Hugh laments his chance of ever becoming a barrister if his wife has inherited her family's propensity to murder. As they try to dispose of the body most of their neighbours become involved or suspicious, and when a second body turns up in the pub chaos reigns.

LION IN THE CELLAR is a highly original, entertaining, and darkly humorous romp with eccentric characters and a bizarre but complex plot, which has a good mystery at its core.

Reviewed by Bridget Bolton, April 2006

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