Sometimes you just have to bite a bullet: following the exceptionally sad loss of the Rue Morgue Press, this is the final Jeff and Haila Troy novel currently available, but, well, let’s enjoy it, eh? Audrey and William Roos did such a great job with so many aspects of the writing in these first four books — the dialogue is genuinely funny, the plots mostly move at a great pace, the mysteries are intriguing, and third book The Frightened Stiff is a genuine genre classic for all time — that we shouldn’t get too weighed down with lamenting their unavailability. Common sense will prevail, they’re too good to let go out of print for any length of time, and this won’t be the last we see of the Troys. Right?
And, we start with an impossible crime! Woo! A man is stabbed in the back when his position puts him in plain view of everyone from in front and the terrain behind him makes an approach from that direction too difficult to consider. On an entirely personal level, the Central Park setting of this was especially nice because I was in Noo Yawk last year and spent many an hour wandering around the lakes, bridges, and unusual terrain utilised herein. Familiarity is by no means essential — no extra insider knowledge will help you solve this — and everything is described with a clarity and confidence that makes the situation easy to follow and quick to print itself on the mind, but if this is the last Roos book I get to read, I’m going to go out in full appreciation
And so, against the background of amateur replica model boat enthusiasts (one of the many unusual flourishes brought to the Roos’ writing), Jeff and Haila investigate…sort of. See, for a novel of detection, there’s actually very little detecting. Undoubtedly the plot and events that comprise it are very finely thought through — it might not seem like it at the time, as there’s what appears to be a moderate amount of padding, but wait until you finish before dismissing it too lightly — but this does at time veer more towards thriller territory with its late night attempted shootings, sinister phone calls, damsel-in-distress motif, and eventual motive for the murder. It’s so light and fast and easy to read that you’re unlikely to care, though, and anyone who makes Hoboken sound even mildly appealing in any way is obviously doing a great job…
Much like watching someone gifted in prestidigitation expertly flourish their way through a pack of cards, we get all the essential ingredients here touched upon lightly but meaningfully: Haila trying to obscure the view of her taxi driver’s neck with cigarette smoke so as to banish the memory of the dead body, actor Tony Gilbert’s self-disgust at the injury which keeps him merely playing a soldier on stage at a time when men are still being shipped overseas, the shifting allegiance of the ‘sour-faced’ William Phillips from baleful object of obstruction to something else and possibly back again, the immutable attitude of the wheelchair-bound George Mead and the way this spurs his daughter Penny into action…it’s all there, all readily at your fingertips, and seems to take up no space at all.
And, of course, it’s also hilarious. The Troys probably benefit from being written by a married couple here, as their dialogue should read like carping and bickering but is shot through with so much respect and love, and has a tongue so thickly in its cheek it’s just as well it isn’t written phonetically, but from conversations about beef stew to Jeff’s inability to leave Haila behind on that trip to Hoboken (and, indeed, the people they meet there) you sort of find yourself wishing that more people spoke to each other like this. As I said in my review of Policeman in Armour by Rupert Penny the other week, it’s beyond mere mortals to be this light and funny all the time, but reading this you forget that and just get swept up in it very happily indeed. Now that’s good dialogue.
The solution won’t delight you all, but I would like to remind anyone who gets too vocal that there’s a very famous example of this kind of problem which does the same thing far less well and to near-universal acclaim. So button it. There’s also not so much interest in the…I’m gonna go with nosocomial aspect of the crime here as there was in that Rupert Penny book, but I think that’s the nature of the beast: if you’re able to pay close enough attention to all the strands that you can pull out these flaws as they occur, well, you’re probably missing out on the fun that makes such a huge part of the appeal of these books. Issues can definitely be found, and I don’t deny them, but every so often you’ve just got to admire what’s good, especially whan it’s this good, and enjoy a bit of fun for the bit of fun it’s meant to be.
Ah, dammit, here’s hoping we see more of these guys before too long…