Thursday, May 31, 2007

More Colin Watson

Sure, Colin Watson has fun at the expense of Flaxborough and some of its inhabitants, but he never takes cheap or easy shots. He can be wistful without being maudlin, satirical without being condescending. And always, a sense of compassionate humor leavens all, as here, from the last chapter of Plaster Sinners:

Purbright bought two half pints of bottled India pale ale and they sat in the corner of one end of the long, narrow room, which once had had tables of white marble and curly cast iron and mahogany counter and a gilded mirror and a wheezing tea urn big as Stephenson's Rocket, but now was fitted with plastic cantilever slabs and benches rivetted to the floor as if in fear of their being stolen.

"All right, ducks?" the custodian of the bar inquired of Purbright. She was a large woman, flushed and sweaty with an eruptive cheerfulness that neither her place of work nor her occasional
appearance at petty sessions could long repress.
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Michael Walters said...

Really pleased that you're enjoying Colin Watson so much. It's always risky recommending an author, particularly one as quirky as Watson, so I'm glad that others share my enthusiasm. I think it's time for some enterprising publisher to consider a new edition. I'd also highly recommend Watson's entertaining study of the 'golden age' of English crime fiction, 'Snobbery with Violence' if you can track down a copy.

May 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I've just finished Plaster Sinners and started Just What the Doctor Ordered (or The Flaxborough Crab).

The Aust Crime site links to this article (, which speculates about why Watson is less popular than he ought to be. From what I've read about Snobbery and Violence, Watson had many unflattering things to say about English society. Perhaps this accounts for his current obscurity. Perhaps people are no more ready to see their society portrayed in an unflattering light than they are prepared to understand satire that loves its subject and makes unsparing fun of it at the same time.

May 31, 2007  
Anonymous Hamish said...

Really, Peter. Watson is not obscure because he once pointed a limp finger at England's class system. Far more sophisticated Englishmen have done that and been feted for it. No, Watson is in obscurity because he is so dull and so smug, so uttery pure of anything resembling wit or insight. What have you been taking during your travels?

May 31, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

I'm afraid we'll have to part ways on this, though I'll concede that you've likely read more of Watson than I have.

First, Watson does more than aim at the easy target of England's class system (though the notion of "sophisticated Englishmen" being feted for doing so would likely have amused him). Second, one reader's dullness is another's quiet, compelling observation. I'm that second reader.

I'll reserve judgment on the accusation of smugness until I've read more of Watson. With respect to your contention that he is "utterly pure of anything resembling wit or insight," "pure of" is a nice turn of phrase.

May 31, 2007  
Anonymous michael walters said...

Each to his own, I suppose, though I'm not quite sure what Colin Watson did to attract such opprobrium. Admittedly, he's not exactly James Ellroy or even Christopher Brookmyre, but even now his books skewer a particular area of English provincial life with delicate skill. And his books still make me laugh, which is more than I can say for much contemporary 'comic' fiction.

June 01, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

As it happens, I've been enjoying Watson less for laugh-out-loud moments than for lower-key incongruities -- saucy remarks from old ladies, for instance. It would be easy to go way over the top with such a thing, but I don't think Watson does that. I also don't think he's out to epater the bourgeoisie. I think he had affection for the Golden Age-style English mystery, an eye for 1960s and 1970s attitudes, and a lively sense of the possibilities when the two collide.

Any recommendations for where to start my reading of Brookmyre?

June 01, 2007  
Blogger Peter said...

Incidentally, I took nothing stronger on my travels than an occasional glass of resiny Croatian white wine.

June 01, 2007  

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