The World War II mystery, Murder’s a Swine (alternate title: The Grinning Pig) was written by husband and wife team, Pamela Hansford Johnson and Gordon Neil Stewart. They wrote two mysteries together (Tidy Death: 1940) and were divorced in 1949. Murder’s a Swine doesn’t have the sort of tone one associates with WWII, but then again, as Martin Edwards explains in the wonderful introduction, the tale’s light-hearted tone was an antidote to the dire reality of 1943 Britain. The book’s mood, in spite of wartime, in spite of murder, is giddy, and the closest thing I could compare it to is a screwball comedy.
The book opens with Clem Poplett “youngest warden at the post in Featherstone Mews” seeking a respite from the miserable weather inside an ad hoc shelter at Stewarts Court, a block of flats. Inside the shelter he meets one of the residents, Mrs. Kinghof, who notes the bad smell. Clem chalks the smell up to damp sandbags, but Mrs. Kinghof isn’t convinced. She says the odour is “as if a cat got into the bags and died there.” Close… the stench comes from a dead body of a large man. Of course all hell breaks loose, and so the fun begins.
It’s clear from page one that there’s something very peculiar afoot at Stewarts Court, and the residents are a mixed, odd lot. At the beginning of the book is a plan of the block of flats–along with its residents. There’s also a plan of Mrs. Sibley’s flat. The dead body turns out to be Mrs. Sibley’s brother, a man she hasn’t seen in years, and not long after the discovery of the putrid body, Mrs. Sibley discovers a pig’s head “pressed against the pane.” Mrs. Kinghof and her husband become the amateur sleuths who are hot on the trail of the murderer. The frothy tale, which makes sleuthing seem fun, has a giddy, good humoured tone from the first page. The characters are introduced very quickly into the novel and I found myself referring to the plan of the flats frequently. Mrs. Kinghof’s initial chatter with the air raid warden was nonsensical and somewhat annoying. This is the type of ‘lark’ mystery one must be in the right mood to enjoy. There’s plenty of screaming, squeaking and fainting, and a explanatory denouement by the killer at the end.