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Heron Carvic - The Miss Seeton Series

In the "three for 5" section of "The Works" bookshop I came across the first three books in Heron Carvic's Miss Seeton series, read that they were a gentle parody on a series I knew and liked - the Miss Marple books - and so I decided to give them a go. Inexplicably, when I got home, I found that my three books were two copies of book two, and one copy of book three, and so I had to start reading at book two. Sadly, although I sort of liked the characters and the English village setting, I wasn't too taken with Heron Carvic's writing style. In short, I doubt that it is going to be a classic series.

Heron Carvic is a pseudonym for Geoffrey Harris (1913 to 1980). Geoffrey was an English actor (he played Gandalf in BBC radio's version of "The Hobbit" ) and writer who created the character of a retired art teacher, Miss Emily Seeton. The books were so well received in America, that the Miss Seeton character lived on after Geoffrey's death with stories by two further writers - 3 books by Roy Martin writing as Hampton Charles, and 16 + books by Sarah Mason writing as Hamilton Crane. Note that all three authors had the initials "H C" ! I think I will concentrate on the original author.

Geoffrey Harris was educated at Eton, but he escaped from there and his father by running away to France, where he took the stage name Heron Carvic to avoid family outrage. As well as being an actor, Geoffrey also worked as an interior designer and florist. He met his wife Phyllis Terry when he was 23 (she was 43) but they did not marry until 1958, years later. Wierdly, records show Phyllis married both Geoffrey Harris, and Heron Corvic - surely attempted bigamy. Geoffrey died in a car accident in Kent in 1980.

Miss Seeton, Emily D Seeton, MissEss is the herione of "cosy" mystery novels. She is a retired art teacher who draws portraits / sketches / cartoons of various subjects. Most bear a good likeness to the subject, but some are distorted cartoons revealing often malevolent character. Is she a gifted medium - a gift of which she is quite unaware - or just a great observer of human characteristics? She seems to blunder about with her brolly, and always be in the wrong place at the wrong time, unknowingly saving lives and exposing murderers and criminals. It's all written with humour, and Miss Seeton definitely talks and thinks as a caricature of Miss Marple, but to my ears this soon becomes annoying. I thought it was overdone - like a smart idea from which, once started, Heron Carvic could not escape.

Picture Miss Seeton     (1968)

I read this book in November, 2019.

Through a silly mistake I didn't buy books 1, 2 and 3 of this series, but picked up 2 copies of book 2 in error. I had to start off reading at book 2, and so now book 1, "Picture Miss Seeton" is the second in the series I have read, and it more or less confirms my earlier impressions. It is a series set in the 1960s, in a then typical English village (5 village shops and a pub) where gossip rules and our heroine Miss Seeton is a retired art teacher who blunders about causing chaos, and solving crimes without being aware of it. Miss Seeton is obviously a psychic, but of this she is completely ignorant. However her sketches reveal all, invariably hidden clues from her subconscious. The police who call on Miss Seeton for help are Superintendent Alan Delphick (the Oracle) and Sergeant Bob Ranger. It's a sort of humorous take off of Miss Marple, and is good when action is taking place (and there is a lot of action) but the author seems to write in triplets, and I was bored, annoyed and fed up with much of the long winded silly village gossip. Better editing would have improved the series enormously.

We open with Miss Seeton taking a short cut up a back alley on her way home from a visit to the opera in London. She passes what she thinks is a courting couple on a dark doorway, but soon the couple are quarrelling, and when the man seems to punch his "girlfriend" Miss Seeton wades in with her umbrella to the fore. Miss Seeton is pushed to the ground, another passerby rushes to help her, and the man escapes. The girl was a prostitute, it wasn't a punch but a fatal stabbing, and Superintendent Delphick who is working on another prostitute stabbing, hears of the case. He interviews and is impressed by this quiet unassuming old lady witness. On discovering that she is an art teacher, he has the brilliant idea to get her to draw what she has just seen. The resulting cartoon clearly identifies the assailant as a known villian Cesar Lebel. Delphick thinks case solved, but recognises that Miss Seeton is in danger until Lebel is arrested. He places a police guard on Miss Seeton, but in the morning she is off to a little village in the country called Plummergen where she has inherited a delightful cottage on the death of her godmother, and should be anonymous and safe.

Other plot lines now develop, and we meet the village worthies. The main gossips are Mrs Baine and Miss Nuttell, Martha Beeton cooks and cleans for Miss Seeton, and Sonia Vannell is a local writer of children's fiction who has a daughter Algela (Angie). The local big wigs are retired General Sir George and his wife Lady Coveden. Their son Nigel is trying to woo Angie, but Angie has changed recently, and fallen in with a bad bunch of youths. Drugs are involved. The local doctor is Dr Knight, and he too has a daughter - Anne. Anne and Sergeant Bob Ranger seem to fall in love at first sight. Their first meeting was contrived brilliantly by Heron Carvic - the series is really quite good in some places. The local vicar is the Rev Treeves who lives with his sister. Sadly Treeves has lost his faith, but knows of no other employment and so carries on as a terrible and bungling vicar. In this role he tells the press that Miss Seeton, now famous as the lady with the brolly, has come to stay in Plummergen - and so Lebel follows Miss Seeton and attacks her in her garden. She thinks he is only a local lad trying to steal her eggs, and sees him off. Had the police been guarding her better they would have caught Lebel.

The other plots involve drugs, a crooked wind bag solicitor who offers some tablets to Miss Seeton, and tragic Sonia Vannell who was destitute when her husband died and became a sort of high class drug pusher to put food on the table when Angie was young. It's a horrible sort of poetic justice when Angie is corrupted by drugs - there is much more to the story, and it's worse. Miss Seeton is almost knocked down by a speeding car, is almost drowned, but rescued by Sergeant Bob Ranger, and is gassed along with Sonia Vannell, but again rescued by Bob Ranger.

I liked the first boy meets girl sequence when Bob meets Anne. Miss Seeton is drowning in a pond, and Bob, a strappling hulk of a man, strips down to his underpants and dives in. Carrying Miss Seeton over his shoulder he runs to get help at Dr Knight's. Anne has had a bath, and so has her hair in a pigtial, but comes downstairs in her dressing gown to assist. Bob thinks it's a little girl, but soon realises his mistake. He and Anne work together to get the unconcious Miss Seeton out of her wet clothes, and put her to bed. Belatedly he realises he is only in his underpants, and wet, they hardly hide his modesty. Blushing he quickly wraps a towel around himself. And so the ice has certainly been broken.

More or less everything is cleared up at the end, but for one thing. Delphick has not yet caught up with Lebel. Lebel seems to have caught up with Miss Seeton however. Read the book yourself to see what happens, or doesn't happen next.

It's not a bad series - its silly, sometimes humorous, sometimes action packed, sometimes stuck in gossip verbage. The unknowing psychic artist / little old lady is quite a good idea. It's not great fiction, but its OK and will probably grow on me.

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Miss Seeton Draws the Line     (1969)

I read this book in October, 2019.

This is the second book in Heron Carvic's Miss Seeton series, but I foolishly had bought book two twice instead of books 1 and 2, and so this had to be my starting point. I liked the country setting. Miss Seeton is retiring as an art teacher, and hopes to move to a cottage in the little Kent village of Plummergen left to her by her godmother. It's the 1960s, so even this small village has 5 shops - a baker, a small butcher, and 3 grocers, one of which is a post office. The pub is the "George and Dragon". Village life is ruled by gossip (the Nuts, Mrs Blaine and Miss Nuttel ) which spreads at lightening speed - sometimes it is based on fact, usually not. We meet some village worthies. There is a Dr Knight, Treeves, the vicar and his sister, Miss Seeton's cleaner Martha (three shillings an sixpence per hour), and Major General Sir George and Lady Colveden, and their son Nigel who live just outside the village. The main police character is Superintendent Delphick (the Oracle ) and his assistant Segeant Ranger, but we also meet the Oracle's boss Chief Super Gosslin, and the assistant commissioner Sir Hubert.

The story opens with Delphick and co baffled by a series of brutal child murders - strangulation with a wire. In desperation Delphick remembers a village phenomenon, the artist Miss Seeton who saved the day in book one when she painted a portrait of the killer, and so won great noteriety in the national press. Delphick asks Miss Seeton to draw pictures of the dead children to see what that might reveal. But Miss Seeton has troubles of her own. Mrs Goffer, mother of the village scamp Effie, had stood in for Martha in her absence in looking after Miss Seeton, and so Miss Seeton had agreed to draw a portrait of young Effie as a reward. Unfortunately each of three attempts fails - half the sketch is a good likeness, the other half a devilish distortion. Miss S. consults Dr Knight to find out what is wrong with her. Has she had a stroke ? Delphick sees one of the sketches and identifies Effie as a future strangler victim. Another Miss S. sketch connects the murders with a series of post office raids. We also get a local gang of youths starting street fights, an embezzeler at the local bank, and a Fleet Street journalist despatched to Plummergen. There are two new families in the village - the Quints, brother, sister and their strange kid brother, and the Hosiggs - and both are soon made chief suspects. Miss S. stumbles about in a series of comic turns, solving everything, saving lives with her brolly, catching crooks (always just happening to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time, and not being aware of the effect she is having).

It's a sort of humourous, make believe caricature of English village life that I found OK for a change. But Miss Seeton's contrived "Miss Marple," "don't you know", "as it were" peculiar speech patterns soon became annoying, and generally crept throughout the narrative as a disease. If only Corvic had mastered the deceptively difficult art of simple writing, the book would have been many times better, to my thinking. In short a good idea spoiled.

It's early days, I'll reserve judgement and see what I think with the next book.

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Witch Miss Seeton the Line     (1971)

I read this book in January, 2020.

This is another outing for eccentric Miss Seaton and the strange inhabitants of the little Kent village of Plummergen. So we meet once again Sir George and Lady Colveden, the two gossiping old biddies, Nigel, Ann and her friend Sgnt Bob Ranger, and of course D Superintendent Delphick, the "oracle".

It's satire on the harmless village spinster theme. The actual story is absolute rubbish and piffle. Two crooks - the Master and a man called Duke - are conning money and valuables out of gullible followers /"believers". One crook peddles "Nuscience" - the end of the world is nigh, sign up to our sect and you will survive and be leaders in the new world. The other crook peddles fear of witchcraft.

A lot of the Miss Seaton situations are very contrived. She is great beleiver in the best in all people, and gets into terrible scrapes and dangers, but never realises the danger, and somehow escapes unhurt.

Needing some extra cash for day to day living, Miss S agrees to be a supply teacher at the local school, mostly teaching drawing, which she knows about, but also teaching maths, which she knows nothing about. Somehow the maths class turns into a financial planning forum. The children soon advise Miss S "you need to get an extra job, Miss"

The police are getting nowhere with their Nuscience work, nor witchcraft investigations, and so they ask Miss S to go along to a Nuscience meeting and do one of her inspired drawings. As usual Miss S in misunderstood, causes mayhem, escapes unhurt, and stirs up so much action and reaction that the crooks are exposed and it all comes good in the end. Miss S is a hero to half the village, a witch to the other half.

Its hardly the best of crime fiction, but it's a short 205 page read, and so more or less OK for a change, and for a smile or two.

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Miss Seeton Sings     (1973)

I read this book in February, 2020.

This is book four in Heron Carvic's Miss Seeton series, and it's more of the same - a contrived situation is set up, Miss Seeton is let loose, she blunders along not knowing what she is doing, and crooks are flushed out wherever she goes.

Miss Seeton is famous from numerous press reports of a battling old lady with a brolly, and now other departments of the UK government want a slice of the action. The police, and now Chief Superintendent Delphick (the oracle) explain that Miss Seeton is not the superhuman agent they think she is, but to no avail. "You can't keep her to yourself."

A lot of forged 5 notes are in circulation - they are excellent forgeries on genuine Bank of England paper. Is someone at the Treasury a traitor? A bank in Geneva has a very important client - a multi, multi billionaire investor - and the forgeries seem to be coming from his account. He has a joint account with his young fifth wife - the wife is unfaithful, and is sleeping with the tycoon's deputy. Also two scams are afoot - jewels are stolen, duplicate false gems are substituted, and the original jewels are sold. Also paintings are being stolen, and painted over to disguise them.

Thus the F.O., the secret service, etc, etc are sending Miss Seeton to Geneva to investigate. The crooks' password is a musical one, and en route to Geneva Miss Ess gets the catchy tune into her head, and causes confusion. Her escorts and minders lose her when Miss Ess mistakenly goes to Genoa, not Geneva. And so it's chapter after chapter of Miss Ess escaping danger, and flushing out the crooks. The tycoon is a Mr Stemkos. Miss Ess exposes his unfaithful current wife, and matches him up again with his first wife. Unknown to him she had been working in his organisation, looking after his best interests, and protecting him from too much damage from the crooked deputy and the fifth wife.

There is pandemonium wherever she goes, Genoa, Geneva, and finally Paris where there is an escapade in a nude review show. All the scams are eventully sorted, and only two crooks are still at large when Miss Seeton finally gets back to London. Chief Superintendent Delphick and Sgnt Ranger meet her there, but even here Miss S has not stopped crook catching.

Once set up, it's all handled very cleverly. The author seems to know his way round Genoa, Geneva and Paris, and yes, it's all done with a lot of humour. It's not a bad little series, and in this book it has more than survived the transplant away from Miss Ess's Plummergen.

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Odds On Miss Seeton     (1975)

I read this book in July, 2020.

This is book five in the harmless / hapless Miss Seeton series, and is the last written by it's creator Heron Carvic. It's light weight, farcical humour - Miss Seeton blunders around not knowing what she is up to, stirs things up, and when everything that can go wrong inevitably and predictably does go wrong, Miss Seeton wanders off, unknowing and unscathed.

Usually the setting is Plummergen village where Miss S resides in Sweet Briar cottage - looked after by no nonsense housekeeper Martha Bloomer. However Miss S. has again been called in by another division of the police force. A mafia style gang are taking over the casino, gambling, and sex scene. The police think they know the head of the gang, but they have no photos of him - X-ray and similar security equipment at the casinos destroy photos. Accordingly, a disguised Miss S ( as an American high roller gambler) is sent in to do a sketch. In a London casino she meets the suspect Mr Thatcher - the arch villian of the story. Everything Miss S bets on wins, and Miss Seeton leaves the casino with her handbag stuffed full with notes - but about to be mugged.

The anti-mafia police group is lead by Inspector Brinton with DC Tom Haley is the Miss Ess escort and minder. Miss S does not drink and so DC Haley has to drink Miss S's as well as his own, and so he gets drunk. His training kicks in and he bravely tackles the mugging gang. Help arrives in the shape of Chief Super Delphick (the Oracle). He had been informed of the use of "his" Miss Ess, and insisted on keeping a watching eye on her - ie the Oracle and Sgnt Bob Ranger (who had married Ann Knight, the Plummergen village doctor. A thwarted Mr Thatcher must save face (and his mafia empire) by eliminating Miss Ess, but as usual she leads a charmed life and her luck holds.

At the Casino Miss S had met Deidre Kenharding, daughter of Sir Kenharding, a director of the casino, and opposed to Thatcher. Sir Kenharding has suffered a motor "accident" / brake failure. He dare not fight back as his family has been threatened. There is also a useless son, Deidre's brother Derrick, who sadly is now a member of the mafia gang.

There is a day at the races, lots more mayhem, and a very predictable reverse ending when Thatcher plants a bomb in Sweet Briar cottage.

Tom Haley and Deidre Kenharding fall in love, as perhaps do local reporters Mel Furnby and the American Thudd Banner. Local gossips Mrs Bunny Blaine and Miss Nuttall (together known as "the Nuts") start a petition to get Miss S to leave Plummergen.

All in all, 190 pages of very light, reasonably humourous reading - it's sort of an "OK" read. I'm not sure if I'll read on to see what the other authors have done with the Miss S. character. Perhaps if I chance upon a book at a bargain price I might be tempted.

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