J. F. Straker - The Goat (Harrap & Co, 1972: Linford Mystery, 2002)
Blurb: When private detective Johnny Inch is invited to a fancy-dress party at Abstock Hall, he looks forward to an evening of good food, plenty to drink and fun and games afterwards ' with the girl who has invited him. What he does get are two badly burned legs, a face to match and a murder committed right in front of him. Doggedly and bravely, Johnny tackles the many mysteries surrounding the case, which involves black magic, mysterious photographs and two more brutal murders...
Have wanted to read The Goat from the moment I set eyes on that remarkable cover painting, and it doesn't disappoint. It seems this is the fourth of John Foster Straker's Johnny Inch novels, though I'm not sure Satanism & Black Magic feature in any of the rest.
"His snub nose and his freckles and his cheeky grin made him look real groovy, and she liked the way he did his hair: not a short back and sides like Mr. Nicodemus, and not dangling round his shoulders like them Hippies, but sort of in-between. He dressed lovely, too. Really with it, Mr. Inch was." This is Johnny Inch through the eyes of his besotted, big-boned young secretary, Jasmine. An ex-cop in his late 'twenties, Inch has turned Private Eye in partnership with Eton-educated Humphrey 'Knickers' Nicodemus, and tonight he's looking anything but groovy. Swinging dolly bird Clare Osman has invited him to a fancy dress party at Abstock Hall, near Tippenham, Wiltshire, and he's not best pleased with his costume - a Tiny-Tots romper suit. Clare assures him that the hostess, merry widow Edwina Drummond, decided who would wear what, and she is to be obeyed in all things. After a set from London pop sensation The Cause, the party ends on a sour note when Albert Wessler, a local demolition contractor, is blown to pieces in his car. Inch is badly burned dragging his corpse from the wreckage.
Detective Wally Blackett arrives on the scene. A pal of Johnny's, he's a plain-clothes man, so his trendy haircut and Kings Road threads go down well with the ladies. Johnny already knows that Wessler has been receiving threatening letters from somebody signing themselves 'The Goat' and passes on this snippet to his friend. They soon have a chief suspect: Harry Fogg, a West Indian garage mechanic, made no secret of his hatred for Wessler who was having an affair with his wife. On searching Fogg's home, they find a strange goat mask and ceremonial robes. It looks like case closed until Fogg provides a watertight alibi for the evening.
Then Clare disappears. Her mother, who is the Drummonds' housekeeper, hires Johnny to find her. Edwina Drummond unexpectedly offers him the run of Abstock Hall while he pursues the investigation. Leila, her daughter, takes a shine to him from the first and he wishes she hadn't. Johnny prides himself on being a hit with birds, but this one is hideously disfigured on account of a car accident on her 21st birthday. Her fondness for see-through blouses makes matters worse.
Clare is found dead on a woodland path. Most shocking of all, she was two months pregnant. Leila takes it in her stride.
Harry Fogg disappears after receiving a phone call from a friend of his wife who hints at a reconciliation. He doesn't worry that Barlett Wood at midnight is an unlikely setting for a reunion with his Missus. The killer picks their moment.
Inch realises he never really knew Clare and the only way to do so is to infiltrate the party scene. Knickers suggests he take Jasmine along as cover. She obligingly squeezes her blancmange body into a pair of hot-pants for the occasion, deciding Johnny never to repeat the experiment, but at least the night isn't in vain as fingers points him in the direction of Lady Drummond's private secretary, Russell Starr, a man of bestial lusts where the ladies are concerned. When, back at the Hall, some midnight snooping turns up another Goat mask, almost identical to that found in Harry Fogg's possession, this one in Leila's room, he hits upon the hideous truth: that old, fenced off, ruined chapel in the grounds is being used for BLACK SORCERY! And tonight is WALPURGISNACHT!
Watney Market Library, R.I.P. Thank you to the staff for their patience, kindness and support since the move from dear old Library Place in the early 'nineties.
From the first, I set myself against "literature"; the story was the thing, and no amount of style could persuade me to select a story that lacked genuine, unadulterated horror. For those who wanted something high-brow there was plenty.