One of the late Robert Barnard's favourite humorous crime novels was Joyce Porter's Dover and the Unkindest Cut of All. I read the Bello ebook edition on holiday recently, and it's my choice for today's Forgotten Book. This was her third book featuring DCI Wilfred Dover of Scotland Yard, and was first published in 1967. I really enjoyed it, and felt it lived up to Bob's praise.
I first encountered the character of Dover, improbably, on television. In the Sixties, the BBC had a show called Detective, which I came across as a teenager some years after it began. The series introduced me to some fascinating detectives and writers, and it's a matter for great regret that there are no DVD versions available. In fact, I gather that many of the original shows have been wiped, although one hopes that bootleg copies may exist somewhere, and will eventually resurface. Even if the production values would now seem dated, this was a series of real quality.
The point about Dover is that he is an anti-hero, fat, lazy and rude. The story opens when he and his long-suffering wife are on their way for a seaside holiday.a trip interrupted when someone commits suicide in front of their eyes, throwing himself into the sea. The dead man proves to be a young police officer, Dover is, much to his disgust, dragged into the inquiry into what caused the young chap to kill himself.
Comic crime is very difficult to write. It's much easier to make a mess of it than a success. And because humour is subjective, it's extremely difficult to write a comic mystery that will have widespread appeal. Yet after nearly half a century, this story struck me as entertaining and genuinely funny. A quick, easy read, with plenty of enjoyable scenes. I don't know much about Joyce Porter (though I do know she came from Marple in Cheshire, a nice place where contemporary crime writers Chris Simms and Michael Walters live) but at her best, she was a fun writer, and though I don't know of anyone who knew her personally, I suspect she was a fun person as well.