6 May 2018

Review - Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel

Cover design by Martin Stiff
Victory Disc (Vinyl Detective, 3)
Andrew Cartmel
Titan Books, 8 May 2018
PB, 432pp

I'm grateful to Titan for an advance copy of this book.

This is the 3rd in the series featuring the (unnamed) Vinyl Detective, his girlfriend Nevada, annoying best friend Tinkler, getaway driver Clean Head and, of course, cats Turk and Fanny. The setup is well established - the Vinyl Collector hunts down old records, and his commissions typically involve him in a historical mystery, which has enough echoes in the present to threaten considerable danger.

Victory Disc is no exception, but takes the gang out of their comfort zone (if being threatened, drugged, burgled or kidnapped can be so described) as the hunt is for even older and rarer records than before - specifically for wartime recordings of the RAF's Flare Path Orchestra, a band of serving airmen purportedly set up to compete with the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Flare Path Orchestra wasn't, of course, real, the Miller band (of course) was. Yet Cartmel has an amazing knack for describing  (totally fictitious) music so convincingly that you're almost there, listening to it. Very evocative, as is the name Flare Path Orchestra itself which made me think of Terrance Rattigan's play Flare Path, also set against the background of bomber crews in the Second World War.

Of course there's a mystery to be unravelled here, the murder of a young woman, Gillian Gadon, during the war, for which a young RAF officer was hanged. (I strongly approved of the fact that in this story Nevada insists on using Gadon's name, making her more than simply an object of male violence). This backstory intertwines with a commission, in the present, by the wealthy Miss Honeyland, to hunt down any serviving records by the Orchestra whose leader was her father, "Lucky" Lucian Honeyland. (One slight gripe: Honeyland's is described as "Colonel" - not an RAF rank, I think). That sets The Vinyl Detective (or the Shellac Shamus, as Nevada describes him now that he's delving into the age of 78s) tracking down surviving members of the band, widening his knowledge of the wartime bombing campaign (at the heart of the book there is, among other things, a compassionate argument about the cruelty of that campaign and its effect both on German cities and on the aircrew themselves).

This is Cartmel at his best, sending the team off on a series of rackety day trips to obscure corners of Kent, portraying the foibles and varied lives of the surviving band/ squadron members while throwing in an eclectic gallery of record eccentric collectors, menacing thugs, murder historians and, inevitably, more cats (poor Abner...) It all moves pretty briskly and - another thing I like in these books - the crew behave intelligently, understanding (from previous adventures) that there may be danger out there. Not that this makes the book staid or boring - it has a pretty scary climax and the revelations that follow complete a satisfying story, bringing the crimes of the past right into the present and showing how evil persists. Indeed there is something of a sense of urgency to the story and a demand to question appearances and remain vigilant. Another strong theme is erasure, particularly of artists (that's a vein consistently explored in all these books).

In all this was an exciting and atmospheric mystery and a good addition to the Vinyl Detective's casebook. I note that a further instalment, Flip Back, is due in 2019 and I wish the anonymous record-finder and his partner plenty of good, fresh coffee and decent food in their next outing.

Final note: while Cartmel avoids using the Collector's name - how long can he keep that up? - he does use pronouns, so I'm not just falling into a lazy assumption that the character is male!

For more about the book see the publisher's website here.

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