Friday 24 July 2020

Forgotten Book - Too Much of Water

Bruce Hamilton, the brother of Patrick Hamilton, was an interesting and under-estimated novelist whose career as a crime writer lasted for more than a quarter of a century without ever really earning him a significant reputation. I've written about him several times, here on this blog, in The Golden Age of Murder, and in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, but I've not found many other fans of his work - although I live in hope!

After a long silence, he produced a final novel in 1958, which was very much a nod to the Golden Age of detective fiction. This was characteristically idiosyncratic, given that during the Golden Age itself, he'd never bothered with the conventional whodunit. I first read the novel many years ago, and was rather underwhelmed by it. So I decided it was about time I gave Too Much of Water (the title is a quote from Hamlet) a second chance to make a good impression.

This is a cruise mystery - the good ship Goyaz is sailing from Liverpool, via Portugal, to the West Indies. In classic fashion, a plan of the three decks is included. We are introduced to a motley assortment of passengers, and Hamilton's interest in cricket and also in music is evident in the text. (He makes passing mention of Eric Blom, the music critic; whether he was aware that Blom wrote Death on the Downbeat, an interesting mystery novel published as by Sebastian Farr, I don't know, but I suspect he didn't.)

I wanted to love this book, but I feel compelled to say that I didn't. It's well-written, and the characters and setting are competently realised, but there is a lamentable lack of pace and even (despite the number of mysterious deaths that occur on the ill-fated ship) suspense. When one reads, say, Death on the Nile, one is excited by the mystery, if one is a whodunit fan. Here, I'm afraid I wasn't excited at all. I'd even forgotten that Hamilton borrows (with due acknowledgement) a plot device from Agatha Christie. Alas, he doesn't handle it anything like as well as the Queen of Crime. There's a nice twist at the end, but it's not enough. All in all, this is a book that sums up why Hamilton was one of the genre's nearly men.

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