This was recommended to me sometime ago by my wife Katie’s cousin’s wife Rachel – thanks Rachel – and I bought it after stumbling across it in the local Oxfam bookshop. It’s the first of a series of books by Malcolm Pryce, and is a wry, funny and surreal detective tale set in Aberystwyth and the surrounding area. It’s a bit like a Phillip Marlowe novel written by the League of Gentlemen, with laconic and witty asides skating across the top of a quite dark and surreal tale.
The hero of the tale is private detective Louie Knight, who is enlisted to try and solve the murders of some schoolboys which appear disconnected. The trail takes him from the local burlesque-meets-strip-joint to the philosopher-ice cream salesman via a witch, her cat, a tomboy sidekick and a sideline in tea cosies. It becomes clear quite rapidly that Lovespoon, the leader of the Druids, is really in charge and has an evil plan for the town which possibly only Louie can stop.
This is fabulous, absurd fun – there’s more creativity in a couple of pages here than you find in chapters of other novels; and the names reminded me of Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49 with their wit and humour. Dai Brainbocs, Evans the Boot, Gwenno Guevara and Myfanwy Montez amongst them. There’s also a lot of moments to make you chuckle – or in the case of one section about Brainbocs’ aptitude with making sticks of rock – and laugh out loud.
The concentration on ideas and characters does mean the plot is quite the twisty labyrinth to follow (Pryce dedicates a later section to what Austin Powers might have called ‘Basil Exposition’, partly because it had got so complicated), and he’s having too much fun to bother with much beneath the surface. To be honest, though, I don’t think that matters much – dive in with an open mind, and enjoy the wonders that this Dali-esque version of Aberystwyth has to offer you.