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Who would have thought that such depths of depravity, political corruption and criminal intrigue would underlie the seemingly peaceful Principality of Wales? Who would have suspected that the Druids are actually the local Mafia and not a rather quaint but harmless tourist attraction? Who knew that brave volunteers from the cream Welsh youth had helped their cousins half way around the World fight a passionate but futile war of independence? Who would have believed that the epicentre of all this was the university town of Aberystwyth?
But, believe it or not, schoolboys are being murdered or are disappearing and Louis Knight, down-at heel private detective, has been hired by beautiful femme fatale and nightclub singer Myfanwy Montez to find out what has really happened to one of these schoolboys, Evans the Boot, who happens to be her cousin. Along the way Louis uncovers the darkest secrets of those in the highest echelons of Welsh society and in doing so puts his own and others lives in danger. Will he uncover the truth, prevent Aberystwyth succumbing to disaster and win Myfanwy's heart?
I came across Malcolm Pryce's quirky detective satire purely by accident but it turned out to be a touch of serendipity. This first of his Welsh novels amused and entertained me to the extent that I am now very much looking forward to reading the rest.
I was offered this book when I was searching on Amazon for Jasper Fforde and couldn't imagine why Malcolm Pryce came up in the search results as well. Certainly the book cover demonstrated a similarity in artistic design to Fforde's books so maybe that wasn't all that was similar? It was worth a try.
The book is written in the first person of our hero detective and in a style which is a pastiche of the detective novels from the forties onwards of such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy and Ross MacDonald. What characterises the story is its wicked portrayal of familiar Welsh stereotypes but here cast in a new light. The hybrid name of our heroine hints at associations with Latin America and with the Argentinian region of Patagonia in particular, to which unlikely location hundreds of Welsh emigrants emigrated back in the 19th century.
You are inclined to feel sympathy for Louis as he tries to unravel the clues and piece them together whilst clearly being manipulated by those with other agendas. Even our heroine is undoubtedly using him for her own ends and you have to wonder who is fooling whom. For Louis, will it be unrequited love and does he realise it deep in his heart anyway? Why else would Myfanwy set him up with her best friend otherwise?
What is the dark secret behind the Tea Cosy shops and why has a particularly fine example of the art been stolen from the local museum? Is Zachariah Lovespoon, the Welch teacher, Grand Wizard of the Druids and War Hero, who he appears to be and how is he involved with Sports Teacher, Herod Jenkins, who Louis blames for causing the death of his schoolboy friend, Marty.
Pryce's beautifully crafted novel works on both levels of humorous satire and as a detective story. Intricate in plot and characters, you really feel for the hero of the tale as he also tries to unravel the motives behind the criminal activities taking place. Like all the best novels of its type it uses interwoven plots where you wonder right until the end if there is a connection between them.
The ending does, however, make all clear and suddenly you realise that almost none of the characters in the story are entirely who they seem to be. In the end you feel that Louis, whilst manipulated from beginning to end, has actually played a determining part in the events as they unfold.
There are now three more Louis Knight stories, like the first, all unforgivable plays on famous film titles; Last Tango in Aberystwyth, The Unbearable Lightness of being in Aberystwyth and the latest, Don't cry for my Aberystwyth. I'm very much looking forward to reading them all.
Schoolboys are being murdered all over Aberystwyth and nobody knows why. Louie Knight, the town's private investigator, soon realises that finding out what is happening to the boys is not going to be easy.