Saturday, August 18, 2007

The humorous afterlife of the English country-house mystery

The jacket matter on my newly arrived copy of Going to the Dogs attests to the lingering attraction of the English country-house mystery in an age that had left gentility behind:

"A body has been found in the library. A body in the library? That sounds familiar. But ... this is not the world of Agatha Christie and genteel murder among the cucumber sandwiches. Dan Kavanagh's thriller is firmly set in the on-the-make Britain of the 1980's, where new money talks loud, old vices flourish, and the people you run into during a country-house weekend are the sort you might very well not want to ask home to meet your mother."
On the smart-alecky side? Sure, but that's just the front-jacket blurb. I'm more interested in the suggestion that Kavanagh (Julian Barnes), like Colin Watson, may have found the English mystery tradition irresistible even as he delighted in poking fun at its outdated pretensions.

The above excerpt was from the front flap; the back flap offers a send-up of the bio-blurb that seeks to impress the reader with the gritty, globe-hopping and numerous jobs the author has held. Typical jobs include bartender and taxi driver (preferably in New York), with an occasional excursion into loan-shark collection agent for truly edgy authors. Here, on the other hand, is the pseudonymous Kavanagh's job history:

"He has been an entertainment officer on a Japanese super-tanker, a waiter on roller skates at a drive-in eatery in Tucson, a bouncer in a gay bar in San Francisco. He boasts of having flown light planes on the Colombian cocaine route, but all that is known for certain is that he was once a baggage handler at Toronto International Airport."
© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Each of the Duffy books had a different spoof biog of the mysterious Mr Kavanagh. As I recall (I must go back and dig them out again), they all began: 'After an uncompromising adolescence...'. The books are genuine lost classics. My personal favourite is 'Putting the Boot In', based in the seamy world of lower-league English football (soccer, that would be). To return to another of your recent threads, it also has an excellent opening along the lines of (quoting again from memory): 'There are too many ways of breaking a footballer's leg. Too many, that is, from the footballer's point of view. Others may find the freedom of choice encouraging.' Who wouldn't want to read on?

August 23, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the note. I realized when I was reading up on Duffy that Putting the Boot In would make a fine addition to my discussion of sports and crime fiction.

With respect to the spoof biography, the social history of the world-rambling, tough-guy book-jacket biography would make an interesting sidelight in the history of crime fiction. A bit of research into what proportion of the descriptions are genuine might be even more interesting.

August 23, 2007  

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