Friday 5 April 2019

Forgotten Book - Dominoes

John Wainwright was a former police officer who became a prolific crime writer. As I've mentioned before, he was successful in his day, but his reputation has not survived his passing. There's a tendency, I think, to dismiss him as a mass-producer, which he certainly was - but there was more to him than that.

Wainwright was a much more ambitious novelist than some might think. A good example of the way he tried to stretch himself as a writer can be found in Dominoes, published in 1980, at the time when Wainwright was about at the peak of his powers. It was his fiftieth novel, and The Times called it "gripping, and worryingly memorable".

The story begins brilliantly, with a passage narrated in the first person by a man who describes the moment "when I decided that I must kill Gerald Morley". The reason is clear - Morley is being blamed for the suicide of the narrator's wife, a teacher. It looks as though we are in for a conventional form of "inverted mystery". But then the story shifts and we are presented with a wilful young woman who fleetingly crosses the narrator's path; she is wealthy but unkind, with a snobbish disdain for the poor and vulnerable.

I thought the build-up of tension was extremely well done. This part of the story was indeed gripping. The trouble is that the second half of the book is less satisfactory. Wainwright is venturing into the realms of psychological suspense, and links in a police investigation, described with his customary crisp authority. But for me, a key psychological revelation fell flat, because I didn't think it adequately foreshadowed - not the first time I've encountered this with Wainwright - and I felt somewhat frustrated. There is a really good book in here, trying to get out, but I think that it can't be counted a complete success. And this is where, I suspect, Wainwright sometimes went wrong - because he was so industrious and productive, perhaps he didn't devote quite enough time or thought to exploring the complex psychological behaviours he was seeking to portray. But I admire the way he took risks with his books, and wasn't content to stick to a formula. This novel is a good example of his considerable strengths as a novelist, as well as his limitations.

1 comment:



Being a cop who writes myself, I became a huge fan of John Wainwright. He did tend to step up to the plate too often to produce a masterpiece every time he was at bat, but, when he was on his game, there was no one better at driving prose, pace, surprising plots, and convincing characters, particularly the cops.

I regard his magnum opus, ALL ON A SUMMER'S DAY, as possibly the best police novel ever written.

I've noticed that the Yorkshire area seems to produce a lot of cop/novelists. Maurice Procter. Peter "Nicholas Rhea" Walker. Bob Bridgestock. Nick Oldham worked in Lancashire, but that's nearby and it's still North England.

Why do you suppose so many North England cops turn into writers?