THE CHANLON HEADS by Barry Maitland

Chanlon headsThe fourth in the mystery series featuring DCI Brock and DS Kathy Kolla.  The first was The Marx Sisters.  I don’t have the next two, but am finding that they are all pretty much stand alones, so I just dove right in on this one.

In The Marx Sisters, we learn a lot about Karl Marx and the aftermarket for his writings.  In The Chalon Heads, we learn a lot about philately.

Philately:  The term was coined in 1864 by a Frenchman, George Herpin, who invented it from the Greek philos, ‘love’, and ateleia, ‘that which is tax-free’.

It is all about a forger of stamps, known only as Rafael, reputed to be an art student, who has forged all kinds of different art work, and has now moved on to stamps.

Stamp collector fanatics are really something!  I suppose they are no worse than the fanatics of any collectible, and here we have a whole mystery built around the world of stamp collecting, and believe you me, it’s nothing like when you were a kid and saved the stamps that came on foreign letters.  Nope.  First of all, there are all kinds of esoterica and arcana associated with stamps.  Like:

The first adhesive postage stamp was issued in 1840.  that was the famous British penny black, and it’s hard to imagine now what a radical invention it was, a uniform rate national postal system, prepaid by means of an adhesive token, which was cut off a sheet with scissors — later they added perforations for ease of tearing — and stuck to the letter.

Since no other country had such a system, there was no need to put the name of the country on the stamp, which is why British stamps to this day are the only ones without the country’s name on them.  But they do have the monarch’s head, and that goes right back to the penny black.   The design of that stamp was based on a side-profile portrait of Queen Victoria.

In that same year, the artist Alfred Edward Chalon also made a portrait of the young Queen.  Which is the basis for the Chalon Head stamps.

Which is the reference for the title of this book.

Well!  An avid collector of Chalon Head stamps reports to the police that his very young wife has been missing for about a week.  He has received threatening notes to which have been affixed Chalon Head stamps, sliced in half.   It would appear that the missus has been kidnapped.  What a travesty, both the kidnapping and the wanton destruction of the stamps.  He is frantic.

And then he gets the head of his wife delivered to his house in a box.

Kidnapping, decapitation and philately!  What could be more fascinating.

Did you know that it is so much easier to move forged or stolen stamps from place to place, country to country, than, say, forged artwork?  Sure.  Just put them in your wallet.  Breeze right through security and customs.   Just a thought, you know, in case you were considering other means of acquiring income.




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