Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Weekend at Thrackley - Alan Melville

It's the Bodies From the Library conference at the British Library this weekend so I'm catching up with some of the most recent titles in preparation - not that I need either an excuse or any particular motivation to read Alan Melville.

This is the third Melville in the crime classics series (the other two are Quick Curtain and Death of Anton, both of which I really enjoyed), but the first book he wrote. It was enough of a success to more or less change his life (he quite his job in the family business, managed to buy a bungalow he called Thrackley, and took up writing and broadcasting work full time).

There's a Dorothy L. Sayers review of 'Quick Curtain' in which Sayers demonstrates a complete lack of humour when it comes to Melville, who shows no inclination to take the detective fiction genre seriously - but that's exactly what makes him so much fun.

'Weekend at Thrackley' is definitely fun. Melville is quite happy to use all sorts of country house mystery cliches, and the plot wouldn't stand up well to serious scrutiny. There's not even much mystery - the question is one of how things will be resolved, as we pretty much know who's done what all the way through and yet it all works beautifully.

I still think of Melville's style as being somewhere between Wodehouse and Sayers - everybody talks like Lord Peter at his silliest, and there's the same love of a joke that I associate with Wodehouse, and this is why I'm surprised that his books vanished for so long.

They're comic gems, exactly the sort of thing that you pick up when you want a pick-me-up, and the sort of thing that I'll read again and again just for the joy of his descriptions. In 'Weekend at Thrackley' there are some interesting details on the subject of gin and ginger, and Bacardi that also caught my eye, but they're possibly not of general interest.

Otherwise the action rips along at a cracking pace, there are handsome young men, equally beautiful young women, wicked villains who preempt the best James Bond tradition complete with gadgets, an isolated country house, and really everything you could want for an afternoons entertainment.

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