Today's book from the past is not, in the conventional sense, a crime novel, but it was written by one of Britains' most notable crime writers of the past fifty years, and ranks as one of his most intriguing achievements. The author in question is H.R.F. Keating, and the book is A Long Walk to Wimbledon, which I read in the form of an ebook produced by Bloomsbury.
This is a dystopian novel, written in 1978 and portraying a London of the future when rioting has left the city in a semi-ruined and largely lawless state. Mark, the protagonist, receives a message telling him that his wife (from whom he has long been estranged) is dying, and he determines to see her one last time .The trouble is that he lives in Highgate, and she lives in Wimbledon, and the only way to get there is to take his life into his hands and walk through the city.
Along the way, he encounters a variety of memorable characters, including a philosophical Indian, and Mad Meg, whom he finds hanging out in Buckingham Palace. There is violence, danger and also temptation as he races (well, walks swiftly) against the clock in order to fulfil his quest. In many ways it's an episodic novel, and much of its appeal lies in the ideas which Keating tosses around as the story progresses.
I asked Harry's widow, Sheila, what had prompted him to write a book which was a major departure from his detectives series featuring Inspector Ghote. She told me that the idea sprang from an incident when, near his home in Notting Hill, he was almost struck by a lorry. This sparked his imagination - what if the streets of London often saw vehicles careering around, driven by people under the influence of drugs, when conventional law and order had broken down? It was one of the author's own favourite books, and it certainly shows his range and versatility. As ever with Harry Keating, it's also very readable. I don't often read dystopian or picaresque fiction, but I'm glad I read this one.