I kept hearing about Gilbert Adair's pastiches of classic crime novels and became really curious to read them. Happily I got all three from Faber's and have now read the first two. What did I think of them? To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure. Gilbert Adair is a critic and essayist and, I imagine, has turned to this kind-of spoof genre for a bit of fun. As you can see from the titles, he is parodying -- or paying homage to -- or both -- Agatha Christie. The novels are set in the middle years of the 20th century, the first in 1936 and the second ten years later, in 1946. Both feature a woman crime writer, Evadne Mount ("the Dowager Duchess of Crime"), and her friend the retired detective inspector Trubshawe. Both feature ingenious crimes. In Roger Murgatroyd, which is set in a country house completely cut off from the outside world by a snowstorm, it is a classic "locked room" murder -- the corpse is found in the attic, the door locked on the inside, no other means of entry. There is much discussion in the novel about the ways in which crime writers have used this idea, though Evadne herself does not think much of it. The solution, when it arrives, is rather absurd, but just about believable. I thought the ending rather a sell-out -- of course I can't tell you who did it, but though it was a surprise, it seemed very contrived. And as for the final paragraph -- well, you'll have to read it to see what you think. I'm afraid "silly" sprang to my mind. All in all, though I could see how clever this was in its sly references -- to other writers, other novels and so on -- I was not terribly knocked out with it.
Nothing daunted, though, I embarked on the second one, and enjoyed it rather more. Although I find Evadne rather irritating, as I guess she is intended to be, I have warmed a good deal to Trubshawe -- their relationship is nicely done, and quite touching. This one takes place partly in post-war London and partly at Elstree studios, where the murder takes place. In fact it takes place during the making of a film, and it is Evadne's great friend (and ex-lover) the actress Cora Rutherford who is murdered. This is done in such an ingenious way that there are only five suspects, none of whom appears to have any motive at all. Of course Evadne figures it out in the end, though once again I found the denouement a little disappointing. Along the way, she and Trubshawe learn a good deal about films, and filming, and film style, all this quite entertainingly done.
So what's my final verdict? Perhaps it should wait until I've read the third one. But my thoughts right now are that though these are clever novels, the cleverness is a little too obviously foregrounded for my liking. I read some Amazon reviews and they were sharply divided between people who thought the novels "hysterically funny" and those who didn't get it at all. I suppose I fall somewhere between the two. But I find myself rather looking forward to the third one, so perhaps I am being slowly won over.