Monday, October 5, 2009

First prize for most beautifully painted toenails goes to... (Books - The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler)

Have I mentioned what a funny writer Christopher Fowler's is? He writes the quirkiness of his detective duo - Bryant and May - with insight into what it is that makes certain people uncomfortable about those who think and behave differently from themselves. The Peculiar Crimes Unit may be abused as a garbage heap for unsolved cases, a place to lay blame for failure, but at its best it is meant to take advantages of the eccentricities of Bryant and May in solving the unusual crime, finding the unordinary criminal thinking - an unconventional mind is going to have greater success getting inside the mind of an unconventional criminal.

I did mention that the first chapter of The Victoria Vanishes sports a murder. The second sports a wake, the wake of the PCU's coroner - Oswald Finch who dies under his own examination table in the morgue, as Arthur Bryant eulogizes:
'...and now he'll never get to enjoy his twilight years in that freezing, smelly fisherman's hut he'd bought for himself on the beach in Hastings. Now I know some of you will be thinking "And bloody good riddance, you miserable old sod," because he could be a horrible old man, but I like to believe that Oswald was only bad-tempered because nobody liked him. He had dedicated his life to dead people, and now he's joined them.'

One of the station house girls burst into tears. Bryant held up his hands for quiet. 'This afternoon, in a reflective mood, I sat at my desk and tried to remember all the good things about him. I couldn't come up with anything, I'm afraid, but the intention was there. I even phoned Oswald's oldest school friend to ask him for amusing stories, but sadly he went mad some while back and now lives in a mental home in Wales.'

Bryant paused for a moment of contemplation. A mood of despondency settle over the room like a damp flannel. 'Oswald was a true professional. He was determined not to let his total lack of sociability get in the way of his career. True, he was depressing to be around, and everyone complained that he smelled funny, but that was because of the chemicals he used. And the flatulence...'
I can just imagine Fowler chortling at his desk as he wrote Bryant's eulogy for Oswald. It's black humor, to be sure, but it's not that often that reading gives me a good old out-loud guffaw. Evidently the book won 2009's Last Laugh Award for funniest crime novel - it sounds like the awards they think up for children in elementary school or summer camp just so that everyone gets one and doesn't burst into tears. 'And Virginia wins first prize for most beautifully painted toenails on the left foot...'

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