Cops in the Copse


Dark is the Clue was originally published in England by Victor Gollancz in 1955, and was the 35th novel by E.R. Punshon to feature his series sleuth Bobby Owen. This is the third-to-last novel involving Owen, who at this late point in his career has reached the position of Commander at the Metropolitan C.I.D. (Scotland Yard).

The story begins with Bobby Owen despatched to the village of Twice Over, outside of London, to investigate the suspected nefarious activities of as-yet-unidentified persons planning to locate, uncover and make off with money stolen in a heist of a Post Office van years previously.

Tongues wag in small villages, and rumours abound in Twice Over regarding strangers of dubious repute in the area. More understandable and well-known locally is the long-time feud between Willoughby Wynne, of Old Dower House, and his neighbour Sir Charles Stuart, of Over Abbey. Wynne has right-of-way access across the nearby copse on Stuart’s property, and this shared interest not only fuels their enmity—it proves to be the focal point of a fresh crime, which may touch upon the case Owen has been sent to investigate.

As Bobby Owen begins his sleuthing, assisted by the local head of police Superintendent Kimms, he soon discovers that this already mysterious case involves more angles and players than he had bargained for.

Another detective might have scratched their head and echoed Superintendent Kimms’ favourite expression:


But Commander Owen’s unerring talent for interrogation, both of an official and informal nature, combined with his sharp eye and keen intuition, comes to the fore as usual. His superiors at Scotland Yard end up being impressed anew, and the far shrewder local police simply won over, by Owen’s investigative brilliance.

Bobby’s wife Olive makes no appearance in this story. She is no doubt at home in London, missing her husband—and Bobby is deprived of her occasional words of wisdom as he works the case.

Dark is the Clue comes late in Bobby Owen’s career—and late in the writing career of E.R. Punshon, who was to pass away at the age of 84 in the year following the book’s original publication. Yet, this novel proves that the author’s talent for creating complex crime mysteries (which “play fair”), and featuring vividly-realized characters, remained undiminished in his last years. The last two Bobby Owen novels, Triple Quest [1] and Six Were Present [2] confirm that Owen and his creator ended on a high note.

 Gavin L. O’Keefe

South Berwick, ME

March 2015


 Jacket of Gollancz first edition (1955)



[1]. Reissued by Ramble House, 2013.

[2]. A new Ramble House edition is forthcoming.