An original novel by Paul Ableman
BBC Books 1980 204pp
SYNOPSIS BY NICK
The ratings for Eddie's show have fallen markedly,
and this trend shows no sign of stopping. Amidst a
series of uninteresting cases, Eddie receives a call
to visit a woman called Maria Calderes at
Buttercups health farm. Calderes, an immigrant
worker allowed to enter the UK on the condition that
she does not bring her child with her, wishes to
become a British citizen with the hope of being
reunited with her child. She asks Eddie to marry
her, but he refuses.
On leaving the hotel, Eddie witnesses the arrival of
a rich Maharanee. Eddie also meets an exhausted
jogger, who is revealed, during a conversation with
Erica, to be Willy Clark. Clark, a heroin pusher, is
the boss of the pimp Ted Richmond. Erica is due to
prosecute Richmond for slashing the face of a
prostitute, Freda Manticle.
Using a special branch detective constable for information, Eddie discovers that a horse
was shot dead at Buttercups some years earlier, and several legally held weapons were
found at the health farm. Whilst investigating the farm under an alias, Eddie meets
Calderes once more. She tells him she is now going to marry Chris,the father of her child.
Some time later Eddie is told by Don Satchley that his radio show is going to be 'rested.'
He is then taken by the police to a forest, where he is shown the body of Maria Calderes,
who has been strangled. The police inform Eddie that he is a suspect in the investigation.
Eddie decides to find out who murdered the girl, but also uses the case as a chance to
keep his show on the air - listeners will flock to the show to hear the case unfold with each
passing week, as he struggles to clear his name and find the killer.
Eddie travels to London and makes enquiries at Whitehall, who tell him that Maria never
disclosed that she had a child. The Whitehall clerk tells Eddie that Maria used to work in a
Bath hotel named the Royal Fountain, along with another immigrant named Jean Cole, who
allegedly moved to live with the father of her child. Whilst visiting the Royal Fountain, Eddie
meets Damien Carew-Prendergast, whom he nicknames 'the mantis'. The mantis worked
briefly at Buttercups, and had spoken to Eddie there just after his visit to see Maria. He tells
Eddie that he is writing a book about Buttercups.
Jean Cole tells Eddie that her son is named Johnny; she has not seen the boy's father in
five years, and plans to marry an American who has proposed to her. Eddie's passport is
confiscated by the police and Erica grudgingly agrees to go to the Philippines in his place
to search for information relating to Maria's child.
The police contact Eddie, revealing that they have found a witness who saw a van
speeding through a field where Maria's body was found the next morning; shortly after, the
mantis contacts Eddie and asks him to meet him at Bristol bus station. He reveals that his
life is in danger. Eddie agrees to meet him, but the Mantis is knocked down by an orange
Mini as they cross the street to greet each other.
At the police station, Eddie spots the name Christopher Dixon on the back of an image of
one of the Buttercups suspects. Linking this with Maria's use of the name "Chris", he visits
a London firm named 'Dixon and Purdue, Fine Art'. Dixon is shocked to hear of Maria's
death and confesses that he once seduced her; some time after their affair, she had asked
him to marry her in an effort to enable her child to enter the country legally.
Whilst talking to Erica via the telephone, Eddie comes to a conclusion - he rushes off to
see Jean Cole, but encounters her American fiancÚ instead. The fiancÚ agrees to help
Eddie and they arrange a meeting with Jean. Eddie travels to Buttercups to interview
Cranston, the owner of the health farm, who says he knows nothing of the attack on the
Mantis. Leaving Buttercups, Eddie intercepts a package that is being delivered to
Cranston. The package contains the mantis's book, which contains nothing of use as
evidence. However, Eddie reasons, Cranston is as yet oblivious of that fact.
In a Radio West broadcast, Eddie announces that he has the book, and then returns to his
flat. Cranston's men are waiting, but Eddie has tipped the police off, and they enter just
after the hired thugs set to work.
Erica's investigations in the Philippines reveal that Maria's child is dead; Eddie, though, is
not convinced. Jean Cole confesses that she had a child she did not want; Maria convinced
her to keep it, marry the father, and give it British nationality. Later, she would travel to the
Philippines and swap babies. The plan worked until Jean decided to move to the USA with
Erica tells Eddie that a local performance of Othello is being staged - some nine years
earlier, the company was touring in the Philippines, and one of the actors is called
Christopher Simmons. Simmons confesses to having an affair with Maria, but denies
meeting her since leaving the Philippines.
Whilst studying Simmons' photograph, Eddie notices the similarity between his
appearance and that of Dixon. Dixon confesses that he killed her after Eddie puts this to
him. Maria never knew the surname of her lover - he was simply "Chris", and the similarity
between the two men in terms of their appearance was enough to convince Maria that
Christopher Dixon was the father of her child.
Dixon worked as a killer for the criminal clients at Buttercups, but took no pleasure from
murdering Maria; he did it to silence her, in London, then drove near to Buttercups in the
van, where he dumped her body. Eddie keeps Dixon talking until the police arrive; he later
hears that Dixon has committed suicide in prison, whilst Simmons has decided not to
become a monk but to remain in the theatre.
Turning his back on all the reporters who are baying for his thoughts on the case, Eddie
goes back with Erica to her flat.
Shoestring's Finest Hour is an improvement on Ableman's first novel. Hour is written in
the first person, and Ableman's decision to present an Eddie Shoestring who is
essentially unlike his TV counterpart lingers; as in the first novel, Eddie has no
moustache, but he is thankfully less of a bumbling cross between Clouseau and Philip
Marlowe in this instance. To his credit, Ableman has constructed a plot that would not be
out of place in the TV series, give or take some character adjustment in terms of the
regulars. Shoestring's Finest Hour is a diverting, but not essential, pulp crime novel.
BACK COVER TEXT:
THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF TV'S MOST POPULAR SLEUTH
It's tough being Radio West's private ear. You not only have to solve cases but keep your
ratings up. Recently, Eddie Shoestring hadn't solved anything much more challenging
than: Who Ran Over the Cat? And his ratings were sagging badly. Don, the station boss
with no love for losers, was beginning to hint that a Radio Auction might have more pull
than a Radio Detective. It was Shoestring's lowest hour. Or was it? A week later, he was
chief suspect in a murder case and felt that he'd really struck bottom. But it could also be
his big chance. Eddie issued a public challenge to the police on his programme. He'd
not only clear his name but bring in the murderer before the law found him.
And that would be his finest hour. If he pulled it off.
Advertisement from back page of
The Listener magazine 30/10/80 edition,
kindly sent in by STEPHEN GRIFFITHS