A comedy murder mystery sounds unusual, but the effective notion of this book is that the actual murder is quickly described, and the detection of the true murderer is the main action. Not that the murder is the only thing worrying the hero, crime reporter Colin Crampton. He has to cope with strangers who seem to have a problem with his continued existence, a job which he loves being on the line, and a lot of remarkably unfunny comedians. Fortunately he has some help from his girlfriend, tough and resourceful Shirley, who frequently acts as bodyguard, motivator and companion in one tight spot after another. Wisecracking, comedy dialogue and some over the top characters make this novel set in Brighton in 1965 a genuinely funny read, with little respect for the conventions of detective writing. Nightclubs, comedy clubs and police cells all feature as backdrops to some violence and appalling jokes. I really enjoyed this well paced and engaging novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.
The novel opens with a News editor on the Chronicle, the wonderfully named Frank Figgis, bemoaning the fact that a libel writ has been issued against the paper, specifically Sidney Pinker, theatre critic. Not that the information is quickly divulged; an extended anecdote about a misrepresented bull distracts the attention. Before Colin can think of a way to solve the problem, Sidney is arrested for the murder of the theatrical agent he is supposed to have libelled. Unfortunately or fortunately for the free wheeling investigations of Colin and Shirley, as he narrates, the investigating officer is Tomkins, and his second in command Ted. Colin ironically comments “In the Sherlock Holmes Award for Brilliant Deductions, Ted would bring up the rear.”.For reasons that are not completely clear, Colin finds himself in a dubious situation as he tries to discover who needed Bernstein, unscrupulous agent, dead. In a fascinating element of the book, the narrative then moves to include the real character of Max Miller, famously successful comedian, who has died leaving his famous blue book of smutty jokes. As a potential suspect, drunken comic Ernie Winkle needs to be investigated, which is another excuse for a bad routine in a seedy club. Unfortunately, a pair of mysterious characters, Gino and Willis, seem to have orders to deal with Colin as he emerges from the club. They are not alone in apparently acting under orders to liquidate Colin, as another challenging pair, Bert and Dean, also pose a threat. An underground dweller provides assistance, and Colin has to face riddles of every sort as he tries to clear Sidney. Happily Shirley is often on hand to adopt disguises and do battle in every sense to save the day, as Colin has to put everything on the line to get to the truth.
Part adventure story, part politically incorrect comedy, this is a fast moving and funny book. I really enjoyed this novel, the characters and even some of the jokes, though the story and dialogue were much more amusing. This is an entertaining read with sustained my interest and involvement throughout, and the central mystery was far from straightforward. This is a mature and confident book from an experienced and knowledgeable author, and I would recommend it as a light and satisfying read.
Now we have returned from our break in Worcester, I am going to sort out my June books and go to some events in the Derby Book Festival. We booked the tickets a while ago, so I am not entirely sure what I am going to – but no doubt we will work it out. Watch this space for more!