Someone who venerates plot to the extent I do should not have enjoyed this book as much as I did. There’s a Nancy Drew-esque dollop of convenience at every turn, and a series of coincidences and sudden realisations that just happen to tie these actions together far more tightly than seems possible at first glance…and I should abominate such quick answers. But, holy hell, it’s also superbly written, and rich in the pulp sensibilities that resulted in me crowning Jim Thompson one of the four most important male crime writers of all time. Classicaly constructed it isn’t, but gloriously entertaining it certainly is.
If there’s one setback to the profligacy of quality GAD blogs now found online, it’s that very little in my reading gets to take me by surprise any more. Something good tends to get shouted about (this is, after all, why we’re here) and then others buy it and shout or grumble as they see fit…but we’ve gone in with a ringing endorsement in our ears beforehand. I’m not complaining, it’s a lovely problem to have — and I contribute to this as much as anyone — but I was moved to reflect on picking this for review that it’s one book on my TBR that I knew nothing about. So now allow me to pre-prejudice the experience for the rest of you…
As I wend my merry way through the works of Norman Berrow — this is the seventh book of his I’ve read, thanks to the wonderful efforts of Ramble House in republishing his entire catalogue — I’m forced into a certain awareness: I really like his style of mystery, even though they fall slightly below the standard I’d typically expect. His characters are fun, his situations inventive, he doesn’t bog you down in mucilaginous prose, and the fact that he jumped between five different (albeit short) series plus standalones in his career invited a certain variation in his approaches that stops things getting samey. If the plots occasionally fall short of full brilliance…I can live with that. But it makes things a little tricky from a reviewing perspective.
A man prone to bouts of lunacy escapes in unusual circumstances from the private sanatorium where he is a resident, and shortly thereafter a series of murders are committed, the left shoe removed from each victim…well, you join the dots. And yet, can it really be that simple? Ordinary GAD rules say no, but this is Rupert Penny, puzzle-maker par excellence, and thus such easy prehension could be both a feint and the actual intended explanation. So Scotland Yard’s Chief-Inspector Edward Beale is dispatched and brings amateur hanger-on Tony Purdon and Sergeant ‘Horsey’ Matthews with him, a crime-solving triumvirate likely to have even Inspector Joseph French quailing jealously at their ability to unpick complex schemes.
Finding new authors to read is a curious mix of recommendations and speculation. I started reading Rupert Penny because he appeared on this list, but then the joy of Max Afford and Norman Berrow followed purely because they were reprinted by the same publisher, Fender Tucker’s Ramble House. Such an approach has typicallygonewell, and while the care of my choosing could be a factor here, I prefer to think that it’s because RH generally publish very good — and if not very good then at least interesting — books. Thus, picking up this book by Vivian at the end of last year was pure “Well, it’s a Ramble House reprint” speculation, and a simple hope to continue my generally good run from them.
Do you find yourself lulled into an erudite hebetude by too many stories blethering on instead of simply getting down to the plot and relevant incidents? Well, Max Afford’s fifth novel runs to 116 pages and probably doesn’t contain a single one that does not in some way contribute to the interpretations or solutions of the central conundrums. A sea-faring mystery in the Death on the Nile (1937) school, a small group of characters are gathered on a liner heading out from Sydney, Australia to some islands because…reasons…when mysterious phone calls, mysterious passengers, mysterious relationships, and mysterious pasts all converge for a cavalcade of enigmas wrapped in queries and shrouded in deepest sinisterlyness.
My first foray into the work of E.C.R. Lorac was long on character and setting but short on plot. This time there’s plenty of everything to go around, and I’m now very intrigued by what else Edith Caroline Rivett may have cooked up in the realms of GAD writing — am I right in saying that it was mentioned at the Bodies from the Library conference that one of her books will be a future British Library Crime Classic? On this evidence, and trusting those fine folk to continue their habit of making generally good selections, that could be something worth anticipating. She’s not quite Agatha Christie yet, but if you’d read only Destination Unknown and Third Girl then even Agatha Christie wouldn’t be Agatha Christie…