Friday, 22 April 2016

Forgotten Book - The Riverside Villas Murder



Kingsley Amis published The Riverside Villas Murder in 1973, and I read it not long after that, during a phase when I was very keen on Amis' work. Oddly enough, my enthusiasm for him faded after attending a talk by him at the Oxford Union - perhaps a salutary reminder for authors that events don't always have the desired effect on one's readership! There's no doubt that he was a talented writer, although I'm not sure time has been equally kind to everything that he wrote. But this particular novel is nowadays branded as a Penguin Modern Classic, and is certainly interesting to crime fans.

When I first read the book, I was intrigued that Amis was writing a homage to the classic detective story, but I felt disappointed with the resolution of the story, mainly because I found the whodunit element unsatisfactory. Re-reading the novel recently,with lowered expectations, I was pleasantly surprised. It's not a masterpiece, but it's interesting and very readable.

The events of the story are set in 1936, and Amis makes direct reference to detective fiction of the period. Anthony Berkeley is name-checked, while the protagonist, 14 year old Peter Furneaux, is lent a copy of John Dickson Carr's The Hollow Man, and the text includes a quote from that splendid story. Amis was much keener on Carr than on Christie, and the 'howdunit' aspect of the plot is the cleverest aspect of the whole novel.

Young Peter's attempts to broaden his sexual experience are rudely interrupted by the murder of an unpleasant chap called Inman, who has been threatening to reveal the dark secrets of supposedly respectable members of their suburban community. Peter doesn't get very far with 15 year old Daphne, but has more joy with a married neighbour, and their affair plays a significant part in the development of the plot. There's plenty of humour, and some neat characterisation, even though there's a surprising lack of tension in the build-up to the revelation of the culprit's identity. Despite its flaws, I enjoyed this book much more the second time around. Definitely worth  a read, even though it's a stretch to call it a modern classic.

9 comments:

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Like you, I enjoyed it more second time round - very distinctively Amis in some respects, which by this point in his career was;t always a good thing!

John said...

I remember this book! Read it when I was in high school. Felt so adult and rebellious because of the sexy parts. I also remember spending many months afterward in my high school years looking for a copy of THE HOLLOW MAN because I was a Carr fan, too. I was mystified that no one knew of the book nor was it listed in the front pages of the Carr books already in our library. I was not then knowledgeable enough to realize (nor were any of the not so helpful librarians) that in the US the book had a completely different title. I finally read it -- as THE THREE COFFINS -- when I was in my 40s!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Sergio - I know what you mean!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John. Amazing to think how tricky things were in the days before we could do internet searches!

seana graham said...

In the revising our opinion of Amis category, I read Lucky Jim for the first time only a couple of years ago, and didn't fine it so uproarious as I had been lead to believe it was. But seeing you mention a mystery by him, my ears perked right up, so I think I must have enjoyed him more than I thought I did. I did watch an interview with his son Martin that made me think he must have been a rather difficult man to be around. I suppose we should always think twice about meeting authors we admire on the page.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Martin – Interesting point about an author’s talk backfiring on him.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading George Macdonald Fraser talking about Amis. He felt that although Amis was a great writer, he was also 'major-league unpleasant'. Certainly, the chapter about Edmund Crispin in Amis' memoirs is really, really nasty. He spends pages calling his 'friend' a failure and sneering at him. Yet I still enjoy reading some of his stuff. Very confusing.

Martin Edwards said...

Many thanks for these comments. Amis was clearly an "interesting" chap, but I must say that, as a student fan of his work, I was disappointed by his demeanour. More about author talks on the blog today!

Clothes In Books said...

I read this, like you, years ago - and was unimpressed by the murder plot, but thought it was a very good picture of suburbia and (probably) teenage boys and their obsessions. He never does sound like a nice man - but Lucky Jim from one end of his career and The Old Devils from the other end have both given me enormous pleasure. Maybe I should get this one out again...