Friday 29 May 2009

Inspector McLevy

The BBC Radio series of Victorian detective stories featuring Inspector James McLevy were completely unknown to me until I discovered, in my Crimefest delegate bag, a promotional CD of one of the episodes, For Unto Us. I’ve now listened to it and done a bit of research about McLevy.

The radio series was conceived and written by David Ashton, and features Brian Cox, a formidable actor, in the title role. The setting is Victorian Edinburgh and McLevy is a ‘thief-taker’ feared by the city’s villains and his subordinates in equal measure. His prime adversary is Jean Brash, as intelligent and sexy as she is criminally inclined, and her personal relationship with McLevy is pleasingly equivocal. She’s a sort of Irene Adler, if you like, but developed more fully than Conan Doyle’s adventuress.

The strength of the episode I heard was definitely in the interplay of the characters. The ‘mystery’ element was distinctly underwhelming; neither the main story nor the sub-plot held my interest, unlike the gibes traded between the cops and the robbers, which were pretty entertaining.

It turns out that there was a real James McLevy, who wrote about his cases, and was quite a star in his day. David Ashton has also written novels about his hero, and it may be that the novel form gives him rather more scope to develop the plots of the stories. Overall verdict on the CD: decent easy listening to while away a tedious commute by car.


Nathan Cain said...

Ashton has written at least two McLeavy novels as well. I've read the first one, which has "Serpent" in the title (Can't remember the rest of it right now). It was enjoyable.

Kate S. said...

Mercat Press has reprinted a number of McLevy's tales about his cases in a book titled McLevy: The Edinburgh Detective (with an introduction penned by Quintin Jardine). I picked up a copy on one of my recent trips to Scotland, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Edinburgh, in the history of crime fiction, and, of course, in the real James McLevy.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Nathan, you've made me think that reading the books would be worthwhile.
Kate, I love Edinburgh (though haven't visited it for a long time) so I guess I should check out the Mercat book.

seana graham said...

I'd listen to them for the sake of Brian Cox, though.

Glynis Diane said...

I have heard ALL the radio episodes of McClevy - many twice. I really enjoyed the interplay of characters and the social comment, which runs through the stories. The characters develop over time, and the overall story has an interesting ending. Knowing that it is based on a real man - who solved over 2,200 real crimes and was Edinburgh's very first detective - was also interesting. It may not always have complex mystery plots, but it is more realistic for that.

Martin Edwards said...

That's a good recommendation, thanks