Thursday, January 26, 2006

Two Mystery Novels: One to Read and One to Leave Alone

Kingsley Amis (photo right) is said to be one of the best of all English wordsmiths and I have little enough experience in his work to agree or disagree. After reading through The King’s English a few years back (Amis' handbook of sorts on English words and usage), I would have given him the benefit of the doubt. However, after finishing his small mystery novel, Crime of the Century, I would probably lean towards the disagreement pole. Sorry.

Perhaps the little crime novel doesn’t show Amis at his best. Perhaps the fellow shines much more brightly in his novels, poetry, journalist columns, even his try at writing a James Bond novel (Colonel Sun) --all of which I’ve never read. I’m sure that must be it because Crime of the Century is a quite confusing and uneven affair, written with a slapdash attitude toward detail, continuity and character development that often dipped below amateurish.

Of course, I do applaud Amis for his respect of the “Golden Age” of English mystery writing which he clearly was trying to emulate in Crime of the Century. In fact, I applaud that sentiment so heartily that last evening I enjoyed reading one of the authentic gems from that "Golden Age" -- John Dickson Carr's Gideon Fell novel, Dark of the Moon. Now that was a mystery worth reading! Carr (shown at left) also wrote under the name Carter Dickson and I've read many of his great mysteries under both names. Look for him in your local used bookstore.