The corpse in the Garden of Perfect Brightness by Malcolm Pryce
The Case Files of Jack Wenlock, Railway Detective.
“SQUIDEYE: I will introduce that wretch to the cat.
MILLIE: You have a cat?
SQUIDEYE: Yes, with nine tails. . .”
The first Jack Wenlock mystery, The Case of the ‘Hail Mary’ Celeste, passed me by like a ghost ship in the night but this follow up adventure is funny, inventive and delightfully entertaining – I think I missed out. Really good comic crime novels are a rare breed but this certainly banishes the blues, a pleasant way to forget your cares with a moment of pure escapism. All due respect to the corpse (RIP) in The Corpse in the Garden of Perfect Brightness this is a cornucopia of wit, word play and gentle satire that overflowth with subtle irony and lightness. That will not surprise fans of Pryce’s Aberystwyth mysteries, (Mon Amour, Last Tango in. . . et al.). What also struck me is the tender portrait of the central characters, Jack and Jenny are likeable, you will care about them when they are plunged headlong into mystery and mayhem.
With hero and heroine embedded in our hearts we are all off on a rambunctious romp across Asia. This novel is part pastiche of the old boys’ own adventure stories of ‘empire and daring do’, and of soft boiled private eye mysteries of the 1940s, not to mention, the eccentric, romantic, screwball Hollywood comedies of the 1930s. Some readers will delight in this novel’s nostalgia for the golden age of rail travel, others empathise with the mild social commentary on line closures and starvation wages. Whatever, Pryce’s writing is the very definition of quirky and oddball, mildly surreal and a little knowing. There are hints of Wodehouse, Adams and Fforde here. I particularly loved the faux screenplay, slowly revealed within the novel, which is comedy gold.
Winter, 1948. Jack Wenlock is part of a way gang, out in all weather clearing the tracks, it’s backbreaking work. The former GWR railway detective is in hiding from sinister cabal, Room 42, but he couldn’t bear to leave the railway. Jack is on his way home one night when he is accosted by Cheadle Heath, a one time GWR Gosling like himself, last seen by Jack in 1936. The goslings were disbanded by nationalisation of the railways, line closures will soon follow:
“It is the way of this world, those who cannot pay their way, whether man or machine or beast, will be for the chop. What happens to the pit pony when he can no longer work, Jack? He is sent to the glue factory.” [Cheadle]
Anyway, Cheadle has a letter for Jack from a wealthy old countess in Cornwall. The letter contains a first class train ticket and a promise of accommodation if Jack will visit. The clincher is that Lady Susan Seymour will tell Jack about his mother. Jack was brought up in an orphanage and has no real memory of her. With little to lose Jack takes himself off to Cornwall to see lady Seymour. His mother, Milly, was her maid, done wrong by the family she vanished abroad. Now Lady Seymour’s son Curtis has disappeared in Singapore but before he did he told his mother he had evidence Milly, believed drowned off the coast of Java in a typhoon, is still alive. To find his mother Jack must rescue Curtis. So Jack and wife Jenny set out on a voyage of discovery, they meet a host of unusual and colourful characters in a plot rich in intrigue, a giant squid, murder, spies, soldiers, fading film stars, frauds, and assassins, [the auction]:
“ ‘A host of scoundrels and rapscallions of every stripe are drinking liquor and gambling. Malay pirates, US navy sailors, Chinaman, Arabs, demimondaines etc.’…
‘All eyes turn to the door as CAPTAIN SQUIDEYE enters. Handsome and fierce, like a seafaring Heathcliff, he wears a black patch over one eye and radiates an authority that causes lesser souls to quail.’ ”
What I will take away form this novel as well as the laughter is the genuine warmth of the love story.
The Corpse in the Garden of Perfect Brightness by Malcolm Pryce
ISBN 9781408895290, Bloomsbury, paperback, February 2021
Triple Jeopardy by Christopher Lowery
The prologue, a murder/suicide at a bank, really intrigued me and even though this is a long intricate adventure thriller I was gripped all the way through. This is a pacey combination of adventure and financial thriller.
2019 – Santa Barbara. Ricardo ‘Ricky’ Menendez, a sprightly sixty-three year old, a dull unmarried man, he has an appointment with Joe Cunningham, the head of his bank’s Small and Medium Business department. An internet breach at the bank wiped out his account while he was away and out of reach. The bank have offered to make full restitution of losses, roughly $250,000 but that’s not enough. The money comes too late to save his business, suppliers have pulled out, the landlord is evicting him and the money in his safety deposit box, placed with a company recommended by the bank, has also been cleaned out. Ricky’s retirement is screwed but Joe points out the money in the safety deposit can’t be verified, after all it was there to avoid tax, and the bank won’t pay out consequential losses for the internet scam. Ricky takes out a gun points it at Joe and pulls the trigger, he sits calmly in a chair as the employees flee before turning the gun on himself.
October, 2018 – Switzerland. Claude and Esther are discussing his bank’s bankrupcy – poor management, 2008 crash, take you pick, it died in 2016. Since then the customers have been contacted to collect the contents of their safety deposit boxes, around 2,000 haven’t responded. Some are dead they didn’t pass on details to relatives, others are paid up in advance and will only come back to the bank when new fees are due. Claude is in charge of the unclaimed boxes and their storage. If they remain unclaimed they are opened by the bank, contents catalogued and kept against future claims. Currently, that’s 2,000 boxes no one knows what’s in them and by way of bonus they’ve recently discovered a subsidiary with 500 boxes in Santa Barbara. Esther has a plan to make them both rich, to steal some of the boxes and to revenge herself by taking twenty million in diamonds from the woman who killed her lover Raymondo ten years ago.
- Pedro Espinoza, former head of homicide with the Andalusia police force is Ricky Menendez’s cousin. He is in America to investigate what happened to his money…
Triple Jeopardy is exciting but quite involved and long, so be prepared for a long ride. Personally I loved the conspiracy at the heart of the story and clearly Lowery has called on in-depth knowledge/strong research of business and finance to great effect. Plenty of exotic locations from Africa to Europe, diamonds, deaths, double dealing and Triple Jeopardy. The opening is as intriguing as any novel I’ve picked up so far this year, if it grips you, you will love this novel.
Urbane Publications, paperback, ISBN 9781912666959, 4/2/21
Bone Canyon by Lee Goldberg
The follow up to Lee Goldberg’s first Eve Ronin mystery picks up where that one Lost Hills left off. The youngest homicide detective in the LA County Sheriff’s Department is recovering from the broken wrist that resulted from her last case. Eve is happy to finally be off desk duty, even if does mean somebody had to get murdered to make it happen.
Two down this series has settled in nicely already, the landscape, background and office relationships, (politics), established in the first book continue to bare fruit. the relationship between Eve and her partner, Duncan, is spiky but warm. Then there’s the celebrity cop angle, Eve has been known as Deathfist since she sorted out an abusive Hollywood actor, allows Goldberg to have a gentle poke at Hollywood’s pomposity and self-importance. This is LA County and it’s ever in the mix. Eve’s wrist still requires physio but she has to be blackmailed into it, it’s get the therapy or back to riding a desk.
Six weeks ago a conflagration tore through the hills, laying waste of homes and property and killing five locals and a firefighter. However, the scorched landscape also surrendered four other bodies, three gang slayings from a secluded dump site, a guy with Alzheimer’s who’d previously wandered off and a partial skull. The skull tumbled out of the dead brush into the backyard of Hollywood screen writer Sherwood Mintner, that’s the Sherwood Mintner! When Eve and Duncan Pavone show up to investigate he recognises Deathfist and tries to sign her up for a movie/TV show. Ironically this is Hueso Canyon, Bone Canyon. A strange guy wandering around the prospective crime scene just about avoids getting shot by Eve, explaining that’s he’s a forensic anthropologists, a civilian sent ahead of the crime scene team. He proves useful straight away, he can tell the skull is from a woman, mid twenties, the crime scene needs to be widened; animals and the fire could have spread the bones all over the hills. Back at the office a film producer threatens to use a big chested blonde to play her on TV if she doesn’t cooperate with the production but all Eve wants to do is catch criminals and solve murders. Her, former bit part playing, mother is on the side of Hollywood. This is her reaction to Eve appearing on the news:
“one more thing. Show a little cleavage next time you’re on TV.” Jen said. “It will draw attention away from your chins.”
More bones are found, including a plate from an elbow break which allows them to identify the woman. At the time she vanished six years ago Sabrina had just reported that she had been raped. As Eve investigates it seems there are a lot of known, or easy to find, details of that case that just don’t appear in the files. There are plenty more discoveries to be made along side the bones. The Mystery darkens into a conspiracy that comes very close to home for Eve and the LA county Sheriff’s Department. Eve will have to watch her back.
Eve’s partner is a few months from retirement but he stands up when it’s necessary. There’s plenty of humour and some serious points about police corruption, misogyny and machismo, of course, they’re not all bad. There’s snappy dialogue and narrative fizz but essentially this is a gripping modern police procedural, a decent mystery with a cracking character in Eve at the centre of everything.
Thomas&Mercer, paperback, ISBN 9781542042772, Out now.
Finally, a drop of true crime to finish.
The Man in Black Peter Moore: Wales’ Worst Serial Killer by Dylan Rhys Jones
Dylan Rhys Jones’s account of his role as defence lawyer for Welsh serial killer Peter Moore is a fittingly sombre and sober read. No pyrotechnics or playing fast and loose with the timeline to ramp up the drama at the expense of truth, this is a serious book. A clear and unvarnished portrayal of events surrounding Peter Moore’s arrest and trial. Dylan Rhys Jones with his insider’s perspective and knowledge, illuminates the process and the way events unfolded from the moment he received a call from a friend of Peter Moore’s saying he had been arrested and needed representation at Llandudno police station. That was 21st December, 1995 and Jones’s life was never the same again. Since then Jones has lived with the knowledge of Peter Moore’s crimes. He had a breakdown, received counselling, and finally wrote this book, partly, by way of exorcising the demons, for him that is what they were – demons.
At time of writing in 2019 Jones takes his dog Twm for a walk along Pensarn beach, near Abergele, North Wales. Where on 18th December, 1995, the body of Anthony Davies, a married man from Llanddulas, stabbed to death, was found. The time to write this book came as Jones was recovering from poor health last year. He wrote to Moore, their first contact in decades, and got a friendly letter in reply, he wants to know if Moore had been truthful at time and was now remorseful. As well as telling Moore’s story this is Jones’s story too, what it meant to be the lawyer of a killer. At times he’s defensive but this is clearly because he’s had to face questions ever since the trial about defending a killer, questions people have no right to judge him on.
“In 1995 Peter Howard Moore change my life forever. His name will now forever be associated with the orgy of destructive brutality inflicted upon the communities of north Wales during the final months of 1995. Moore was sentenced by Mr Justice Maurice Kay in November 1996 to four life sentences with no prospect of release. I have been battling for years to secure my own release from the grips of the Peter Moore case…”
The case cropped up in North Wales at a challenging time for the force still dealing with the Sophie Hook child murder case. Pressure grew with Peter Moore’s arrest which is evidenced in the book.
Moore, the owner of Bagillt cinema near Hollywell, (and a few others), killed four men; in addition to Davies there was Harry Roberts, Edward Carthy and Keith Randalls on Angelsey, in the Clocaenog forest, and along the route of the A5. He denied the offences until the evidence began to pile up and then after confessing retracted his admission. Then claiming a fictional lover, Jason, did it. A story he took to court. Jones comments on Moore’s calm unruffled nature and then fact that the crimes did not seem to phase him but as he was first being interviewed the police at his house had found Nazi memorabilia, a police uniform and a bloody knife. Moore is an ordinary looking man if his mug shot is accurate, unremarkable except for the dead eyes.
This is a thoughtful book, an earnest and cathartic work. For anyone interested in the crimes of Peter Moore and the real process of justice that follows the case of a murderer this account is for you.
Y Lolfa Cyf., paperback, ISBN 9781912631278, Out now.