3 May 2016

Review: The Vinyl Detective - Written in Dead Wax

The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax
Andrew Cartmel
Titan Books, 10 May 2016
PB, ebook, 474pp
Source: Review copy from publisher

He is the record collector — a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others...

They call him The Chef. You don't want to know why, but if you get in his way, you might find out.

I found this book the perfect confection of breakneck, page turning detective noir (or perhaps, detective gris?) on the one hand and absorbing, geeky exposition of a subculture on the other. The subculture is, of course, that of the vinyl record collector: despised by most until recently these records are now mainstream sought after items (you can buy them again at HMV!) But the world of obsessives, disc hunters and commercial middlemen is less well known and (on the evidence of this book) as varied and fascinating as any of the other niche cultures appealing to (mainly) male collectors. Think stamps, with much more storage space needed, or vintage bikes with less. (I don't mean that to be patronising - these subcultures add to the richness of life and stave of the encroaching beigeness of the modern world).

It's a culture that Cartmel portrays with real affection and seemingly exhaustive knowledge and its hidden corners and byways provide a fascinating setting for his protagonist who must delve into a decades old mystery as he searches for a very particular, very rare, record. There's an urgency to this. Our hero is basically penniless and his heating has failed, threatening him and his cats with hypothermia - that record will pay his bills for months, if he can find it - but more to the point, anyone who comes into contact with it - or who may have done so - acquires a bad habit of dying. The only way out is to take to the car boot sales, the charity shops and the backstreet emporia and get crate diving.

Of course there's a beautiful woman involved, setting things in motion (although Nevada is anything but a device to motivate the hero: try saying that to her face). Of course there is double dealing, and a mysterious, all-powerful enemy... But above all there is fun by the bucketload. Once Cartmel gets things going (and he does that pretty quickly) the story continues at a breakneck pace, throwing out clues, red herrings by the slabful and introducing a range of colourful contacts and low life figures in and on the fringes of the record hunting community. And not all of them die.

There is in the end a serious and sad story behind all the mayhem, highlighting a real issue in the history of jazz and much other popular music - but I'll say no more about that because spoilers. Above all though this is absolutely cracking entertainment and I'd highly recommend it. I'm delighted to see that there are followups planned - Cartmel has found a joyously different setup for (hopefully) a string of fun and highly readable crime adventures.

I'm grateful for a review copy of this book. It's published on 10 May but copies were already in the shops on 2nd (see photo!)


  1. This is high up on my pile to read. Sounds really fun. I used to be a vinyl collector but ran out of space and I sold most of them on ebay - turning a neat profit on some! :)

  2. It is great fun - I smiled as my son has recently started buying vinyl so I recognised the crate diving and dusty record shops!