THE ELGAR VARIATION by Michael Kenyon

THE ELGAR VARIATION

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Though this features Scotland Yard's cockney poet-sleuth Henry Peckover (The Molehill File, 1978), it's not a whodunit but rather a sardonic, continent-hopping chase-fest involving a slew of secret agents--all of whom are pursuing Lord Gadley, a.k.a. ""Jimmy the Wheel,"" who disappeared six years ago after killing his comely housekeeper (who was really a spy). Why all the interest? Because Lord G. was a middleman in secret sales of British arms, sales that would now embarrass both the UK (Albania/Peking problems) and the US (a ""senatorial leprechaun"" bought guns for the IRA). So when Lord G. is supposedly sighted in London, the CIA and British Intelligence (plus some of Gadley's ruthless gambling cronies) are watching and following while patsy Peckover tries to track Gadley down. The investigation first takes him into Lord G.'s aristocratic family circle--which allows for lots of scrappy class-conflict satire as Peckover kicks out at ""that insulated, insolent elite whose nostrils twitched with distaste at his mere presence, as if he were a slug in the salad."" Then, however, the trail leads abroad--to France (a dead body surfaces), Africa, and Singapore, with shadowings by thugs, a Margaret Rutherfordish spy, and sexy US journalist Polly (for whom Peckover falls despite ties to common-law wife Miriam). And it's in Singapore that Peckover gets a message from elusive Lord G. himself: a demand for a full pardon in exchange for silence about those arms secrets--which have been put on tape. But before Peckover can grab this tape, he's shot; and by the time he has recuperated, the tape has fallen into the hands of Gadley's randy, greedy aunt--who's on her way to the States (via QE2) to sell it to the US press! So now Henry's in transatlantic pursuit of both tape and Lord G.--with shipboard tussles, cat-and-mousing in Chicago, and a final bloody showdown with everyone on a Long Island beach. . . before Peckover goes back to now-pregnant Miriam. Don't look for tight structure, consistent suspense, or plausibility here: neither Lord G. nor his tape ever seems worth the trouble. But if you've a taste for brawnily acerbic dialogue and for tongue-in-cheeky characterizations with more than a bit of real anger underneath, Kenyon's always a likely source--and, though loose and overlong and spotty, this is one of his richest, rudest entertainments yet.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1980
Publisher: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan