I’ve had a bit of a rest for a couple of months, during which my blog traffic has gone through the roof, which fact should probably teach me something about leaving well alone, but hasn’t. Here I am back with, if not a bang, a whimper. This is what I’ve been reading…
I’ve had a couple of John Rowland titles from the British Library on my shelves for a few years now. Murder in the Museum (1938) sees the pooterish Mr Henry Fairhurst assisting Scotland Yard’s hunt for the killer of three Shakespearean scholars. The later Calamity in Kent (1950) is another one for my collection of mysteries with massively improbable drug-smuggling methods. The worldly narrator, an experienced reporter for the London press, is inexplicably unfazed by someone bothering to ship drugs via spare car parts sold to innocent car mechanics. Both books start as mysteries but end up more like thrillers; not solid classics, but enjoyable.
Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), another British Library title, is more secure in its place in the canon. A group of amateur criminologists, the Crime Circle, prove one another wrong as a succession of solutions to the murder of perfect wife Joan Bendix is proposed and nixed. In the spirit of DVD extras, this edition contains bonus additional solutions by Christianna Brand and BL series consultant Martin Edwards.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge is, if nothing else, proof of the sudden and unlikely ubiquity of classic crime. Chances of finding a genre-subverting 1958 Swiss crime novel in a small Norfolk library three years ago: 0%. Last week: 0% too, but only because I’d borrowed it. Kudos to Pushkin Vertigo for reviving this one (maybe less kudos for the fake Scandi-noir cover). A bleak tale of a dogged investigator throwing away a promising career to catch a child murderer. Not for those of a sunny disposition.
Staying with downbeat realism, but moving closer to home, Peter Drax’s High Seas Murder (1939) is a gritty tale of piracy and murder in the less-than-glamorous setting of the North Sea fisheries and the shabby port town of Gilsboro. A cast of unsympathetic characters torment one another after a botched attempt to claim a ship as salvage – despite the inconvenient fact that the captain is still very much on board. Dean Street Press has reissued several of Drax’s novels with introductions by Curtis Evans, and I’d certainly recommend this one if you’re partial to Simenon.
Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy/heist romp, Ocean’s Eleven with wizards. Locke Lamora is leader of the Gentleman Bastards, a gang of master criminals about to meet their match in the form of the Grey King, a serial killer of career criminals. Good fun, and because it’s a fantasy novel, there are another two in the series to enjoy.
China Miéville’s Railsea is a bonkers tale in the spirit of Moby Dick, but set in a future dystopia where people hunt enormous moles on an enormous ocean of railway. Oddly readable, & certainly memorable. & that’s just for the punctuation. Give it a go.
Deon Meyer’s Trackers is a book that’s been on my watch list since reading a review at Petrona back in 2011. Maxine said: ‘Deon Meyer just goes from strength to strength. I think this book may be the best thriller I’ve ever read.’ I can confirm that it is an excellent book, a breath of fresh air in terms of its South African setting and cast of spooks, smugglers and gangsters.