A CRIMINAL COMEDY by Julian Symons
Kirkus Star


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Symons' best novel since The Blackheath Poisonings (1978)--with an Agatha Christie-ish plot, a wryly detached manner, and a refreshingly oblique format: the murders aren't committed until more than halfway through. . .and the only real detection is done by a curious, innocent bystander. The fetching tangles begin in the London suburb of Headfield, where crude, middle-aged Charles Porson and younger, handsome Derek Crowley are edgy partners in a successful travel agency. And things get edgier when virtually everyone in town starts getting anonymous letters--accusing Derek and Charles' wife Gerda (a German-born beauty) of secret adultery. Is the accusation true? Apparently not--since all parties, including Derek's wife Sandy, lightly dismiss the matter. But why, then, does Charles have two near-fatal ""accidents"" in Headfield? And why, on a business trip to Venice, does Charles eventually turn up dead (drugged and drowned) in the Grand Canal? The case develops several nifty complications: also found dead in Venice the same night is Sandy Crowley's shady ex-husband (could it be just a coincidence?); Charles was seen in the company of a mysterious young man shortly before he drowned; the Porson/Crowley travel-agency turns out to be a mini-hotbed of smuggling. So the Italian police--despite strong suspicions that Derek killed Charles (for business reasons)--find themselves thoroughly stumped. Yet ultimately all the mysteries will be solved--by Derek's lifelong chum Jason Durling, a repressed homosexual whose insights into secret passion (a Symons trademark) lead him to a cordial yet lethal confrontation with the killers. Christie fans will recognize all of the tricky twists here. But Symons revamps them with winking dexterity. And his distinctive shadings of character comedy and social satire--including poor Jason's hopeless literary ambitions--make this an old-fashioned whodunit that's also highly contemporary and crisply original.

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1985
Publisher: Viking