Another week, another book review – which when I finish, I really need to keep reading so I can keep up the review pattern (currently reading a very long book, so it’s taking me quite a while). For a change, this is not a random book I scrounged off the ground following a message on the building’s stuff-I-don’t-want-the-faff-of-taking-to-the-charity-shop group. So, where did I get it? I actually visited a charity shop myself, and walked out with a small pile (okay, three) books. My next step on the book acquisition journey is to actually get my butt to the library and finish the membership process. But I’ve got a few more on the TBR pile to go before I need to brave a public space like the library. #winterlockdownhermit
This novel tells the story of Jenny Windell, who is fascinated by murder mysteries. She finds herself, through some accident of fate, in the same room as the body of her estranged aunt, and becomes convinced that the police will come after her. She flees the scene, heading towards the countryside to pretend to be a hiker, aided by her friend who lends her clothes, pawns a watch and provides her with an alibi. Much hilarity, coded letter-writing, and fake names later, the story comes to a pleasing conclusion that definitely shows off its ironic handling of the genre.
Spoof of a genre: the cosy detective novel
It’s not a book that takes itself too seriously. Published in 1933, the tail end of the golden age of detective fiction, it’s got plenty of source material to riff off. As it reads, you can see the impact on the main character, Jenny Windell, of the detective novels she clearly loves. The novel treats her devotion to the tropes with an authorial/narratorial wry smile and raised eyebrow. She’s clearly being silly, isn’t she, dear reader? In terms of humour, there is also a similarity to P.G. Wodehouse; somewhere between Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse, maybe. Quite a lot of irony used throughout.
The blurb on the back cover calls it “a hilarious spoof on the detective novel” – I feel like “hilarious” is an overstatement. It’s not really a laugh-out-loud spoof. More like a witty and ironic takedown of the fans of the genre, rather than the genre itself. It’s a tightly written and edited text that’s pleasing to me as a writer because of how it lays out the major plot points and characters, and its very neat wrap-up of events. Like a Shakespeare tragedy ends with lots of deaths, a Shakespeare comedy ends with lots of marriages, Poirot novels end with a denouement… This wrapped itself up just as I was led to expect.
About the author: a shift from Winnie the Pooh
So, yeah – the reason I bought this book was its author. I have a deep love of A.A. Milne, borne of many years of Winnie the Pooh admiration, and appreciation of the poetry he is also well-known for. Alan Alexander Milne (yes, he shares names with two men who are significant in my life) wrote plays, novels and essays before his children’s books eclipsed his other literature. He apparently (k, I researched this on wikipedia) greatly resented that he became known more for his kids’ lit than his ‘more literary’ (pah!) work. I feel like I will definitely need to read more of his other work before I can judge this – largely because his poetry has always been part of my cultural experience, and this book feels more like an outlier at the moment.
The charity shop had some other books in a similar imprint that I didn’t pick up that time, but maybe they’ll still be there, or maybe I’ll be able to find them digitally.
Erm, well, I wanna go back and grab the others from the charity shop I found this in so I can judge more of A.A. Milne’s work, more generally. This book itself – well, I’ll probably keep it, rather than recycling it into the charity shop donation pile. It felt familiar, but not the best book I’ve ever read. I feel like Christie and Wodehouse do each of their respective genres better than this book does the combination of them. But it was a fun diversion. Secret codes, fake names, a touch of romance… it’ll do.