Murder most foul

I wonder if other bookhounds have had the same experience as myself. You finish one book, start another, and find that there's an odd link between them. I don't mean that you've done this deliberately - for example, the first time I read Manon Lescaut was after it had been mentioned in Dorothy L. Sayers' Clouds of Witness. I mean something rather more unusual, and unintentional. So, my last couple of reads have all been inspired by Boy's own type stories. In The honourable schoolboy the genre is torn apart, in The Boy detectives it is gently mocked, while Kingsley Amis' The Riverside Villas Murder is a hommage both to the young detective tales beloved of between-the-wars-England, and the yellow jacketed Crime Club stories, also a major player in the 1930s world of popular fiction.

It's not a bad murder mystery either, although it remains resolutely true to the genre. The method of murder is fantastical, there's a truly bad villain, and a truly good detective (the young hero, Peter Furneaux), there's a slightly sinister detective, and an honest-John type. The murderer is the most unlikely person, and the villain deserves what he gets. Amis pulls gentle fun at the genre with a Chief Constable who has a passion for popular crime fiction, and a detective who points out all the failings of the genre - only to be a bit of a failure himself.

It's an interesting, but slightly uncomfortable read. Amis appears to thoroughly enjoy aping 1930s fiction, and he does it so well. What isn't so pleasant are the snide innuendos about sexuality. He does try, generally, to present these for humorous effect; but what was seen as being acceptable in 1930s fiction, is much less so in 1970s fiction (Riverside Villas was published in 1976), and even less appealing to the 21st century reader.

In the end this novel falls rather short. It doesn't go down the deliberate comedy route of The boy detectives or The Wimbledon Poisoner, and its quality as a crime novel isn't high enough to class it as an historical murder mystery. All of which rather makes me wonder why it was ever published except that it happens to be by an author who normally writes much better than this. It has the odd moment when Amis writes superbly but unfortunately generally this is a crime novel that is best avoided.


Popular Posts