Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Case of the Missing Brontë - Robert Barnard

I'd been eyeing up the Pan reprints of the Robert Barnard books when Harriet Devine and Elaine at Random Jottings both said good things about him - so I promptly bought them, and after only a few months (which all things considered is still quite prompt) read them.

The first thing I feel I have to say about 'The Case of the Missing Brontë' is that the cover is lovely, and clearly designed to appeal to people with a penchant for vintage crime (people like me) but I'm not sure it's entirely representative of a book written and set in the 1980's. I'm mentioning it because (for no very good reason) I've spent quite a lot of time trying to imagine what a contemporary take on a 1980's book cover should look like - I still have no idea.

The second thing to say is that every good thing I'd heard about this book was bang on the money. I loved it. So much so that I've had a mini Barnard binge. Briefly, Superintendant Perry Trethowan is returning to London with his wife and child after a family visit in Northumberland. When the car breaks down in Yorkshire they find themselves put up in a B&B and taking refuge in the village pub - where they meet Miss Edith Wing, she has a very interesting manuscript in her possession. One which just could be a lost second novel by Emily Brontë.

I'm no Brontë expert, but as Barnard seems to have written a book about them I'm assuming he was, and from the little I do know his plot as regards a lost manuscript holds together, and so does what happens when news of its possible existence spreads. There are greedy relatives who want to get the goods off of Miss Wing, greedy academics who see a chance for glory with a good bit of money thrown in, greedy collectors who are prepared to splash the cash, and some very nasty thugs who enjoy their work a bit to much...

The third thing I want to say about this book is how interesting I find the way it's aged. Written around 1983 this is a Britain I sort of remember - I would have been about 10 - the cultural references  are familiar, the humour reminds me of Blackadder and Not the Nine O'Clock News. It's old enough to have a faint patina of nostalgia, and it also shows me (again) that I much prefer a book that's had time to settle - or to rise back to the top (like cream in milk) if that makes more sense. What made this one particularly irresistible, apart from the Brontë connection (which is appealing) is the glimpses of the Trethowan family - they're a cross between the Mitfords and the Sitwells with added eccentricity.

It's gloriously silly in places, and very funny, but with a thread of threatened, and actual, violence that seems very much a part of an era of miners strikes and IRA bombings and which very effectively grounds the plot in a slightly uncomfortable reality. Basically it was a total treat.

6 comments:

  1. So glad you loved it! I've tried a couple of his other books since, and haven't taken to them so much, though I read two some years ago that I liked a lot.

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    1. I've read a couple more too, loved one, liked the other. I hope more become easily, and reasonably cheaply, available. It would be great to be able to explore a bit further (still don't do ebooks).

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  2. I've not heard of this author, but this book looks like fun. I'm adding it to my list. I love the cover, too.

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    1. It was great fun. I've been trawling through Amazon descriptions of his books and some appeal more than others, he's definitely worth a try.

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  3. This looks great, thanks for an excellent review.

    I read Why Diamond Had to Die (Richard Burns) quite recently; it was also written in the 1980s and I had forgotten so much that when I read the jacket blurb about Republicans I just thought immediately of US politics and was surprised to find the IRA, how quickly things move on.

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  4. It's disconcerting how things move on, and how long ago that time seems, and yet the scars still run deep. I must admit I found the mix of things that seemed very old fashioned, and quite contemporary fascinating.

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