Friday 21 September 2018

Forgotten Book - Murderer's Fen

Andrew Garve enjoyed a long and fairly illustrious career as a crime writer, as well as pursuing a successful career as a journalist under his real name, Paul Winterton. I tend to bracket him with Michael Gilbert, who was just a few years younger, because they were both versatile and highly professional writers whose books are invariably smooth reads. If I lean in favour of Gilbert, it's partly because he uses his legal expertise so brilliantly, and I think he was a slightly more gifted writer. But Garve was good, make no mistake about that.

Today I'm focusing on Murderer's Fen, a novel he wrote in the mid-Sixties and which is nowadays available again, thanks to Bello. If I didn't know Garve had written it, I could guess, because it features life on a boat as one of the elements in the story - Garve plainly loved sailing, almost to the point of obsession. It crops up time and again in his novels, and it's to his credit that although I'm not interested in the technical details of boats and sailing, this quirk doesn't irritate me at all.

Murderer's Fen is interesting as an example of the "inverted mystery". We're introduced to Alan Hunter, handsome and persuasive, while he's on holiday, eyeing up the girls. Before long we realise that he's actually a nasty piece of work, a sexual predator with little or no empathy for the girls he seduces. And soon, he has cause to contemplate murder.

Garve offers us a variation on the classic form of inverted mystery, by shifting the viewpoint from time to time between the culprit and the investigating detectives (a nicely contrasted pair). This device works well as a means of building suspense. An idea for a twist occurred to me which never materialised - perhaps I'll use it myself one day! Garve wasn't super-ingenious, really, but he knew how to tell a good story. And Murderer's Fen is a good read with an excellent setting in -naturally - Fen country.. 

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