Friday 21 June 2024

Forgotten Book - The Matter of Paradise

I've reacquainted myself recently with both of Brown Meggs' ventures into crime fiction in the mid-70s and I enjoyed The Matter of Paradise (1975) as much as Saturday Games. Again, the novel deals with the preoccupations of a middle-aged man of that time, and this is reflected in the inscription in my copy, to Micky Diage: 'who will now understand why 42-year old men are the way they are!' 

There's a disclaimer at the start of the book, making it clear that the protagonist, music critic Hobie Milne, is not a self-portrait and that the school in the backstory is not the school that Meggs attended. Fair enough, but I'm sure he drew to quite a significant extent on his own experience of young men and what happens to them in 'the real world'. For although this is a good, pacy crime novel, it's also a good character study. I must say I enjoyed it more the second time I read it than the first time around.

Hobie was one of nine students in the same class. One by one, someone is murdering them. Why? It soon becomes clear that the crimes are connected to 'the matter of Paradise' - but what does that mean? Hobie keeps his cards very close to his chest, but Meggs writes so interestingly that this isn't as irritating as it might have been. 

At the time this book was written it must have seemed very hip. Now, inevitably, it is 'of its time', and a lot of the sexual attitudes are very dated. As with Saturday Games, there's a lot of talk about classical music, which Meggs obviously loved. That first book earned an Edgar nomination and film rights were sold (but alas no film was made: the old, old story!) In my opinion he vaulted over the second novel hurdle rather impressively. 

However, I suspect the book didn't achieve the success he hoped for, though both novels were published in Britain by Collins Crime Club. I've found no online discussion whatsoever about this book. Whatever the reason, he abandoned crime writing, though he did produce two more novels and a TV documentary. A very brief career in mystery, then, but one that deserves not to be forgotten.

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