Friday 28 July 2023

Forgotten Book - A Shot in the Arm

I met John Sherwood just once, as far as I can recall, at a CWA conference about thirty years ago. He must have been about eighty then, give or take a year or two, and I don't remember the details of our conversation; my impression was of an amiable, quiet chap. At around that time, I read one or two of his novels, without being blown away by them. But I came across an inscribed copy of his 1982 stand-alone A Shot in the Arm and decided to give his work another try.

I'm glad I did. This is a crime novel packed with interesting ingredients. I must say that I don't think John Sherwood made quite as much of some of them as he might have done, but the story still makes for an interesting read. It's set in post-Abdication London and much of the action revolves around the BBC. The author worked there himself for many years, and his insider's view of life within the Corporation is enjoyable, even if he gallops through a lot of the details.

He certainly gallops through the plot. There's no shortage of action. A slightly improbable matrimonial argument is followed by a BBC man called Tony Chatham apparently being shot through the arm by his deranged wife Angela. It's an odd incident, one of a number in the early part of the story which keep the reader guessing. A BBC secretary is then murdered and it seems that the victim may have been killed by mistake. Was the killer out to finish Chatham off?

The second half of the book begins with a major plot twist, foreshadowed by the dust jacket blurb. The story is just as complex as the publishers claim, but I felt that the hectic storytelling lessened the impact of the mystery. The book feels as though it was written in a hurry, with viewpoints changing so rapidly that the effect is occasionally confusing. The climax too is regrettably rushed. A pity, because there are some clever ideas here. Coupled with the interesting background, this might have been a quite superb history-mystery. Despite its shortcomings, it's definitely worth a look. 

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