Inspector Dreadlock Holmes & Other Stories by John Agard – two police officers arrive in a small English town and several stories of humour and identity

Inspector Dreadlock Holmes and other Stories by John Agard

This is essentially a collection of memorable short stories, the first seven concerning two black police officers sent as a diversity policy move to Middleham- by -Sea. All the stories reflect the question of identity, as people and later creatures are surprised by difference, by origin, and by the hidden truths central to many lives and situations. Some of the stories are more like observations, as negotiations and discussions preoccupy minds and hearts, whereas others are tales of the past, of famous people considered through the eyes of others, and in one case, given voice by a small, remarkable child. No two stories are exactly the same as even the first seven vary in format, with poetic couplets inserted to further the story, change the mood, convey in dialogue and important aspect of the story. They are a pleasing variation that immediately change the rhythm, the atmosphere of the story, giving it depth and sometimes immediacy.

As the miniature mysteries of the first stories give way to the other tales, there is an enormous imagination of display, as chips confer with fish, spices consider repatriation and Charles Darwin is fondly remembered. British villages find new ways of life in hats, blacksmiths are challenged, Shakespeare’s birthday is marked, and cats are adored. The range of subjects and points of view is enormous, as many deal with discovering the origins of people’s motives, as contemporary life is mixed with the historical and even the mythical. This is an entertaining and original book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens with the stories that concern Inspector Dreadlock Holmes and his sidekick “rookie” Rudeyard Fly, the former aware of his roots in the Windrush voyage and the latter a budding poet, who come from South London to the “Anglo Saxon” town of Middleham – by Sea by special request of the Middleham Criminal Investigation Department. There are cultural and other differences to contend with, but as both police officers are keen to get on with the job of detecting and living in the area, they are greeted with a mildly surprised reaction. Their first case seems to involve a passionate activist Lord Montagu, who has been found unconscious with a cucumber by his side. Suspecting foul play, they have the pleasure of interviewing the welcoming Lady Montagu, retired opera singer and memorable wife of the supposed victim of suspicious activities. Holmes is particularly taken with the accommodating lady, and this interest provides the main theme of the following stories, when he is not investigating unusual cricketers and events in libraries. While Fly is obsessed by cricket, Holmes prefers golf, and he later becomes involved in other activities as well as encouraging his younger colleague. Both feel the unusual stresses of small-town life, as misunderstandings and unfortunate events abound. A possible fiasco in all senses keeps Holmes on his toes, but overall, he remains calm in the face of many distractions.

My favourite of the other stories is that of the baby Cosmopolitan Brown, whose special abilities are foretold and indeed come to pass much to the bemusement of those around him. Altogether this is a book of stories which is filled with gentle humour and telling revelations by a talented writer of tales of the imagination and identity which I found entertaining and memorable. It is another contribution to the Holmes genre which is unusual and good humoured.