Friday, 16 September 2022

Forgotten Book - The Big Ben Alibi

Golden Age detective fiction lends itself to parody and pastiche, but during the Golden Age itself, I'd say there weren't too many laugh-out-loud detective novels. I've come across a very pleasing exception to that general rule, namely The Big Ben Alibi, by Neil Gordon. The name was a pseudonym for the Scottish writer A.G. Macdonell (1895-1941), who appears to have published seven solo detective novels plus one which he co-wrote with Milward Kennedy, The Bleston Mystery.

Macdonell is remembered today, however, for a comic novel rather than a mystery. England, Their England is renowned in particular for a very enjoyable cricket scene, and a cricketer (who tells many boring stories about his career) is one of the members of the supporting cast in The Big Ben Alibi. The story concerns two young detective novelists whose latest novels are turned down by Henry Haddington, their literary agent. They hatch a cunning plan to enable them to recover their fortunes...

John Maclennan, one of the two writers, is a Scot, and I did wonder if he and his colleague George Cranford represented, to an extent at least, jokey versions of Macdonnell and Kennedy. I don't know the answer, but I certainly enjoyed the jokes about the cliches and conventions of Golden Age detective fiction, as well as the skits on popular newspapers. This reads like a book that was a lot of fun to write.

The plot is competently put together (which isn't always the case with comic detective novels) but what makes The Big Ben Alibi stand out is the sheer joie de vivre of the storyline, which involves a country house mystery, an unbreakable alibi and plenty of other tropes of the genre. I'm surprised this book has been so overlooked for so long. 


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