The Mysterious Mr Badman (A Yorkshire Bibliomystery) by W. F. Harvey ~ British Library Crime Classics @BL_Publishing #BookReview #Mystery

41GJ-dixL9LAuthor: W. F. Harvey

Originally published in 1934, this edition was published by the British Library in 2022

Category: Crime Fiction, Mystery


‘The note read:
“Will the gentleman who took by mistake a copy of Bunyan’s Life and Death of Mr. Badman, return it as soon as possible, as the book is in demand.”’

On holiday in Keldstone visiting his nephew, Jim, blanket manufacturer Athelstan Digby agrees to look after the old bookshop on the ground floor of his lodgings while his hosts are away. On the first day of his tenure, a vicar, a chauffeur and an out-of-town stranger enquire after The Life and Death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan. 

Blanket manufacturer Athelstan Digby was taking a holiday in Keldstone, Yorkshire in order to visit his nephew, Jim, who was thinking about taking over the old doctor’s practice after acting as his locum. Jim had found Digby comfortable lodgings with Mr and Mrs Lavender over their Keldstone bookshop. When the Lavenders needed to attend a funeral, Digby offered to look after the shop while they were away.

Mr. and Mrs. Lavender set off a little after two. From his comfortable arm-chair in the shop Athelstan Digby watched them go down the High Street arm in arm, like two oddly assorted volumes from the shelves, Daniel Lavender, leather bound, fat and stumpy; Mrs Lavender, cloth bound, tall and thin.

There were a couple of customers that afternoon including an elderly, unpopular clergyman who ‘drinks a bit more than is good for him and his parish’, looking for a particular book – The Life and Death of Mr. Badman by John Bunyan. The book couldn’t be found so the clergyman left his details in the event Mr Lavender is able to find a copy. Surprisingly, two more people, a chauffeur and a stranger, came into the shop looking for the same book. The next customer was a young lad with a parcel of second hand books to sell. And yes, you guessed it! Included was The Life and Death of Mr. Badman, although it wasn’t destined to stay in the bookshop very long.

Digby, a likeable gentleman, is intrigued by the theft and can’t imagine what is so special about this particular book. He and his nephew begin to investigate why the book is in such demand and who stole it from the shop, leading them into unwelcome and dangerous situations. The plot is quite complex and sometimes tense and escalates from theft to encompass mystery, politics, scandal, blackmail and murder. 

The Mysterious Mr Badman is an easy, enjoyable and measured read, set in the beautiful Yorkshire landscape, with well realised characters, engaging prose and subtle humour. I was surprised to learn in Martin Edwards’ introduction that W.F. Harvey has a reputation as ‘a master of the macabre.’

My thanks to The British Library for my copy.


William Fryer Harvey was an English writer of short stories, most notably in the macabre and horror genres. Among his best-known stories are “August Heat” and “The Beast with Five Fingers”, described by horror historian Les Daniels as “minor masterpieces”.

Born into a wealthy Quaker family in Yorkshire, he attended the Quaker schools at Bootham in Yorkshire and at Leighton Park in Reading before going on to Balliol College, Oxford. He took a degree in medicine at Leeds. Ill health dogged him, however, and he devoted himself to personal projects such as his first book of short stories, Midnight House (1910).

In World War I he initially joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, but later served as a surgeon-lieutenant in the Royal Navy, and received the Albert Medal for Lifesaving.[4] Lung damage received during the rescue leading to the award troubled him for the rest of his life, but he continued to write both short stories and his cheerful and good-natured memoir We Were Seven.

Harvey was a practicising Quaker.

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