Grave Witness

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

When Ralph Igglesby finds some broken pottery and a decorated bronze bowl, he is cautiously hopeful. Perhaps this is proof that early Greeks had penetrated to his ancestral forest. Professor Ben Jonson is asked to do some sketches and intends to verify the findings. He consults an expert antique dealer, but when Ben is attacked in the shop, his academic pursuit becomes a fight for survival. Within a few short hours, Igglesby and his trusted servant are killed, and the police strongly suspect Jonson. To help clear his name and find the killer, Jonson recruits Joy, Igglesby’s secretary, who also happens to be a beautiful girl of courage and talent.

Together they travel to the Isle of Wight, where a few special archaeological clues seem to beckon. In a deft move, the villains, led by the mysterious antique dealer, imprison Jonson in the steel hull of a J-class yacht and terrorize Joy. Jonson chisels his way out of the death trap while Joy seeks refuge at a girls’ academy. When they reunite, they pursue leads provided by the academy’s headmistress, who knows some of Igglesby’s other associates.

All the while, the police have been sifting evidence. They learn that the antique dealer has a criminal record, and Jonson and his scholarly clues are thereafter taken more seriously. Soon the police have evidence of the hoax. The forgers had intended to plant fake artifacts in a burial mound and sell them at great profit. The plan went awry, however, and the murders were committed to hide the failed scheme. Igglesby’s funeral provides “a forlorn ending to this saga of violence and escape,” though Jonson and Joy end up as a happy twosome.

Levi is a professor of poetry at Oxford. His erudite references are balanced by exuberance and a flair for the romantic. He is a bright talent in the long tradition of academic dons who write entertainments for our pleasure.