The Judas Pair

The Judas Pair
Jonathan Gash
First published in the UK 1977, William Collins (The Crime Club)
This edition 1986, Arrow
ISBN: 0099470705
210 pages
Score 4/5 – with reservations

I bought this for a bargain £1.50 at Norwich Market in the spring, and it’s been sitting waiting patiently on my bookshelf ever since. One of the Minor Offences (aged 3) was pleased to see Pascal from Disney’s Tangled on the cover (I’m not actually sure why there’s a chameleon on there). The Judas Pair was the first in the Lovejoy series, and won its author the John Creasey award in 1977.

So, Lovejoy: Sunday-night TV staple when I was a kid. Loveably mulleted, sack-faced antique dealer with a twinkle in his eye. Lady Jane, Tinker and Eric. Forgeries. Capers. That’s the kind of review I was expecting to write.

But, page 2: Lovejoy ‘belts’ a woman to stop her from talking when he’s on the phone, and then pinches her cheek, ‘making the nails bite’. Different times, I know, but could a character come back from that, even in the 70s?

Lovejoy is an antique dealer based in rural Essex. He has a talent which sets him apart from other dealers and collectors – an almost mystical instinct for quality. He is also something of a details man, with an exhaustive cataloguing system monitoring auctions, private sales, and deals made and broken.

In the opening chapters, Lovejoy is engaged by a Mr Field to search for a legendary or more likely mythical pair of flintlocks – ‘flinters’ – the Judas Pair.

‘Find me,’ he said carefully, ‘the Judas Pair.’
I sighed wearily. The guy was a nutter.
‘Haven’t I just explained – ?’
‘Wrongly,’ Field leaned forward. ‘Lovejoy, the Judas Pair exist. They killed my brother.’

Field’s brother was a collector who claimed to have bought the Judas Pair a few months before his murder. The police have been unable to find the murder weapon, and as the guns have disappeared Field believes one of them was used, and that finding the guns will lead to the murderer. Without necessarily believing in the existence of the flintlocks, but encouraged by the money offered by Field, Lovejoy sets about tracing the movements of antique guns in recent times. His quest leads him all over East Anglia to antique shops, auctions and collectors. There is a lot of charm in this book, and most of it lies in the descriptions of antiques and the antique trade. Lovejoy makes a good teacher and after reading The Judas Pair you feel like you know a little bit more about his world. He comes across as being half in love with antiques and half motivated by their cash value.

About the time of our Civil War, the posh firing weapon was a wheel-lock. This delectable weaponry consisted of a sprung wheel, spinning at the touch of a trigger and rubbing on a flint as it did so. (The very same mechanism is used in a petrol-fuelled cigarette lighter of today, believe it or not.) They were beautiful things, mostly made in Germany where there were clock-and-lock makers aplenty. A ball-butted German wheel-lock costs the earth nowadays. And remember, the less marked the better – none of this stupid business of boring holes and chipping the walnut stock to prove its old. Never try to improve any antique. Leave well alone.

The investigative story is engaging but essentially directionless, as Lovejoy himself believes he is on a wild goose chase. However, through a stroke of luck, he eventually succeeds in finding a significant clue which leads him to Field’s killer.

The final few chapters were genuinely surprising and not at all what I expected when I picked up the book. There are some extremely tense moments as Lovejoy goes to hell and back to track down the killer. (By the way, ‘hell and back’ isn’t a cliché, you’ll see what I mean if you read the book.)

So, on the basis of the antique interest and a truly white-knuckle finish (now that was a cliché), I’d recommend this book.

But then there is page 2, and the ‘belting’.

I think the idea is that Lovejoy, taken away from antiques, is essentially an imperfect human being.  He simply doesn’t understand anything else: neglects his garden, can’t work his car properly, doesn’t cook properly, doesn’t know the names of birds, has no real friends. He needs women on a biological basis but not on any other level, or so he thinks, and pontificates about their ways in the self-justifying man-of-the-world way popularised by Michael Caine’s Alfie.

I should own up about women.
It’s a rough old world despite its odd flashes of sophistication. Women make it acceptable the same way antiques do. They bring pleasure and an element of wonderment, when oftener than not you’d only be thinking of the next struggle. There’s nothing wrong in it all. It’s just the way things are. Morality’s no help. Keep cool, hang on to your common sense and accept whatever’s offered. Take what you can get from any woman that is willing to give it.

He hits his girlfriend because she is distracting him whilst he is talking about a deal. Is that forgiveable? No. Is it consistent with the character? He does reveal more of a dark side later in the book, so yes. But I think my biggest problem with the scene is that it is played for laughs. For me it genuinely marred an otherwise excellent book.

Final destination: Not sure yet

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Past Offences by Rich Westwood is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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9 Responses to The Judas Pair

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    RIch – Yeah, that belt would be enough to put me off the book too. Lovejoy as a character does have some appeal, and I like the humour in the books. But I agree that this side of his character is hard for me to take… Fine review of the novel, though!


  2. Maxine says:

    I am sure I read this book maybe even in the 1970s! or more likely 80s. I can’t remember much, of course. I think the belting type of thing was just not an issue, then, apart from among feminists who were universally mocked by “mainstream” ie men. It was a very sexist time, then. I think the equal opportunities act only came in in 1977, attitudes and reality were just dreadful (eg certain jobs were advertised only for me, & The Times had a “Girl Friday” classified day I recall, for secretaries and what we’d now call personal assistants.


  3. Maxine says:

    only for “men”, not for me!


  4. westwoodrich says:

    I read an interesting post recently which slated Conan Doyle for racism. I now can’t remember where it was but it looked at the Indians in the Sign of Four and pointed out some glaring errors in how they were depicted. I must admit until that point I hadn’t really thought of Conan Doyle as a racist or even bothered to consider the issue – my point being that there is usually an unconscious recalibration of your sensibilities when tackling an older book, and that blinkers the reader to a certain extent. We get used to making that recalibration. But for some reason this scene in Lovejoy really jarred, maybe because it was written as a scene which contributed to his charm.


    • Maxine says:

      There is anti-Semitism in Murder must Advertise by Dorothy L Sayers….again, water off a duck’s back in its era. My sister and I were precocious readers, we just devoured it all without even noticing this stuff. It was awful, though, and one notices it much more when one is a bit older and sensitised to bad behaviour. I agree that one makes allowances for books that unthinkingly reflect their times. Spousal abuse was routinely ignored by the police back in the 1970s (remember Erin PIzzey setting up the Chiswick woman’s refuge? This started the whole refuge “movement”, but even so the women involved were largely marginalised).) Times have sure changed – for the better, in this regard (though the recent cases of Pakistani-origin men in the north of England does open one’s eyes to political correctness/incorrectness issues.)


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