Andrew Cartmel – The Vinyl Detective: Written in Dead Wax

I have to blame Ben Aaronovitch for making me read this – he’s been quite happily plugging his friend’s book on Twitter. And, well, I have to say that drawing my attention to this excellent novel almost makes up for the delay in publishing the next Peter Grant book. Note that I said almost, Ben[1] – you’re not off the hook yet!

Andrew Cartmel’s name was familiar to me, of course. He was script editor of Doctor Who during the latter part of the Sylvester McCoy period, and is credited for something some fans call “The Carmel Master Plan”, though I seem to recall him denying there was any such thing. Anyway, he was definitely responsible for starting to make the Doctor a little bit more mysterious.

And talking of mysterious, what we have here is a rather nice mystery. And that’s leaving aside the little detail that unless I blinked and missed it, the hero doesn’t actually reveal his name at any point. Though he does acquire a nickname at a certain point in the story.

Our hero is a pretty much failed DJ with an obsession with jazz, a large record collection and two cats. He’s dragged into a whole new life when a business card he’d made on impulse some time before offering his services as the Vinyl Detective (you want an obscure record, he can find it, that sort of thing) turns up in the hands of a woman who arrives on his doorstep.

After a quick test in which he succeeds in not finding a non-existent record, he’s set the task of finding an obscure jazz recording. And that’s when it all gets interesting. For a start, there are others looking for the same thing, and they can get a bit rough (and we’re not just talking about sneakily outbidding you on eBay).

Wild adventures are had, complete with Dramatic Explosions, travel to multiple destinations! Gratuitous sex and violence (though fortunately not at the same time)! Confusion! Misdirection!

And above all, the question of why an obscure recording would be so valuable. What is the secret of the message written in the dead wax?

Well, I’m not going to tell you, you’ll just have to read it. It’s well written, manages to be funny and thrilling and has that “I’ll just read one more chapter” quality that kept me awake far too late.

There does seem to be a Cartmel Master Plan after all – there are two sequels lined up for the next couple of years. I’m looking forward to them.

[1] Not that I’m expecting Ben to actually read this, that was more of a literary device thingy

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