The book begins with suicide. Carella tries to prevent one and Cotton Hawes gets an apparent love pact suicide that just doesn't ring true. This one isn't one of the stronger titles in the series. McBain opens up with his now familiar turning of the seasons line - this time Spring gets characterised as a rather lively lady. It's a line he's used before. McBain doesn't really explore the theme of suicide either. He doesn't seem interested. Finding the absence of suicide is all that matters and Mcbain is mostly interested in the crime just like his detectives. Hawes has been absent from the series for a few titles which made me think he'd been written out but I think the real explanation might be due to McBain going through a period of publishing some of his previously abandoned or delayed material. It's a side effect of being such a prolific writer. McBain through Carella rather pooh-poohs the importance of first discovering motive to solve a crime. I don't know whether he believed that or whether it was just the frustration with the difficulties of maintaining mystery in a story when clear motives are detectable. Mayer and Parker lend a hand when needed as does Bert Kling. Kling has not moved on from the loss of his girl. He's being eaten up by the tragic event. Hawes has settled down more and seems happy with his long time relationship. Gone are the days of him falling in love every thirty pages. Although the mystery isn't the best it does show the precinct at work due to the investigation stalling so early resulting in other business getting priority.
Jack Wenlock is a Railway Gosling. Imprinted at birth with the image of a railway locomotive as their mothers a young group of detectives are nurtured during the era of the great wars. Years later with all his Gosling compatriots either missing, mad, dead or, worst of all, in possession of a blotted copybook Jack is all that is left of the experimental group. He's counting out the days that remain of his entire world; the Great Western Railway, which is soon to be privatised. His last case begins as a young woman with a Veronica Lake hairstyle walks into his office.
Malcolm Pryce distils a sometimes dream-like surreal England from a multitude of influences spanning the gamut of popular culture and the mythical golden haze of nostalgia. It's awash with imagery, language and attitude drawn from the Boys Own magazines, Pathe film reels, radio adventure serials like Dick Barton, a wash of films often with railway settings; Brief Encounter, The Lady Vanishes, King Kong and adaptations of Agatha Christie like the 4.50 from Paddington.
Jack Wenlock is an engaging mix of almost child-like naivety and steely resolve. He looks at the world through that Boys Own filter of fair play, Englishness and manliness, good chaps giving bounders a bloody nose, venerating his beloved railway the GWR with such love and devotion that getting him talking about it in public risks a 'When Harry Met Sally' moment of embarrassing decibels. Oh and he carries a lump of Formica in his jacket pocket - oh the wonders of modern technology.
Chapters are preceded by extracts from Vol. 7 of the Railway Goslings Annual 1931 featuring Railway Gosling Cadbury Holt in search of the missing nuns plus the answers to reader's questions.
Pryce writes well, delighting in the language and the skewed view of the world presented by Jack in an era full of propaganda and exaggerated recollection. The book is fun, funny, sad, poignant, nostalgic and romantic. Noir with knobs on.
Robert Silverberg and I have had a fairly scatological association for
the best part of four decades. My childhood in the 70s and early 80s was
full of little encounters when I'd bump into him in small shops with
the odd revolving book rack or amongst the slim volumes brought home
from jumble sales. Some of the slim volumes would get read or filed for a
rainy day (the rainy day being anything from six weeks to thirty plus
years down the line). His output in the latter half of the 80s received
more organised attention from me as his name became a library sci-fi
staple. Starman's Quest was written in the 1950s when he was
nineteen during his junior year at Columbia. It was his second book and
as he admits in his preface he's written better since. The imagination
is all there but plotting and story progression certainly have their
fair share of problems. The Starman's Quest is the unlikely ambition of a
young spacer (a Starman) to solve the drawbacks of interstellar space
travel at near the speed of light. Time dilation and relativity are hard
science that's fuelled the imaginations of speculative sci-fi writers
like Silverberg for most of the last century. Shoving the problems with
the plot mechanics aside Silverberg's actual narrative is quite fun and
thoughtful. The dismay of our young protagonist being separated from
his twin by first space and later age is very well done as is his deep
culture shock when he jumps ship and tries to find his brother on the
harsh consumerism driven overcrowded Earth. A talking sentient rat
accompanies him but Silverberg doesn't really need an extra voice in the
narrative so ends up almost completely forgetting he's there. Flawed
but enjoyable and far beyond what a nineteen year old should be able to
accomplish - just like our young Starman.