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The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth - Malcolm Pryce

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Author: Malcolm Pryce / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 20 February 2009 / Genre: Crime & Thriller / Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC / Title: The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth / ISBN 13: 9781408800690 / ISBN 10: 1408800690

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      22.10.2006 10:27
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      A good read, but start from the beginning of the series

      Introduction
      It was the cover of the first book in the series; 'Aberystwyth Mon Amour' that first caught my attention. I read the synopsis on the back cover and decided I had to give it a try. Having enjoyed that, I was delighted to get hold of this particular book, the third in the series. The first thing to realise about the series is that it is not about Aberystwyth as it exists today, but rather is Aberystwyth set in a parallel universe, where Louie Knight, private detective a la Raymond Chandler, investigates the most bizarre of crimes. The second thing to realise is that the book is very tongue in cheek - in no way is it meant to be taken seriously. There is definitely something compelling about the books and I have read other reviews suggesting that Malcolm Pryce is an author to look out for and that this series may well be on its way to achieving cult status. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this was the case.

      The author
      Malcolm Pryce was born in Shrewsbury and grew up in Aberystwyth, hence presumably the setting of the book. He now lives in Bangkok, having held a variety of jobs across the world, where he concentrates on his writing career. He has written three books featuring Louie Knight: the aforementioned 'Aberystwyth Mon Amour', 'Last Tango in Aberystwyth' and 'The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Aberystwyth'.

      The plot
      Louie Knight is approached by Gabriel Bassett, an organ grinder, about a murder that happened one hundred and forty years ago. It involved the death in a fire of the mistress of a house, following a rape and the theft of her jewels. The stable boy is accused of her murder, although he swears that he had nothing to do with it. His monkey, Cleopatra, who was previously an astronaut on the Welsh Space Programme, also asks Louie and his sidekick, Calamity, to help look for a relative of hers.

      Sounds weird? On top of all this, Louie's on-off girlfriend, Myfanwy, who features in the first two books, is now little more than a zombie and is snatched one day after having eaten drugged raspberry sauce on her ice-cream. Louie suspects that he knows who has taken Myfanwy, but is unable to find any proof. As he investigates, with Calamity's help, he is thwarted by a nun by the name of Cunegonde, who runs an orphanage, called a waifery for young run-aways and a motley collection of gangsters. He also has the support of Lunos, a local policeman, who threatens to shut the whole city down if the strange happenings do not cease. As the story progresses, the different plots seem to come closer and closer together and Pryce's ironical sense of humour builds up to the ending.

      The characters
      This is definitely more of a book about action rather than concentrating on characters. We know little about Louie Knight's past, except that he has a father called Eeyore whose best friend is a donkey. He is very much a hard-boiled private detective who seems to bump into solutions to crimes rather than using much in the way of brain cells. Character-wise, it is definitely worth reading the books in order - I think I may have missed out by not reading the second book. Louie is ably helped by Calamity, who is working towards gaining her private investigator licence and is keen to show her suitability for such an honour. These two characters in particular definitely seem to be gaining personality throughout the course of the series. There are a number of other characters, most of whom are known for their odd characteristics rather than for any particular personality traits.

      Conclusion
      To begin with, I found it quite hard to tell whether this book (and the first in the series) was very brilliant, or very bad. One thing is for sure - Malcolm Pryce has a fantastic imagination and manages to keep the reader interested because of this alone - rather in the way that I read Terry Pratchett books. But at times, I found the book confusing because things don't always seem to make sense at first and take a bit of getting used to and are therefore easy to forget. This meant I frequently had to go back to check on previous happenings. Without a doubt, I don't think this book works well as a one-off - it will make much more sense if you have read other books in the series.

      On the plus side, the writing style flows well and the plot gallops along at an enormous pace. All in all, I have to concede that there is a certain brilliance in Malcolm Pryce's writing. Die-hard fans of traditional crime fiction may not like the parallel universe aspect, but I enjoyed the story-telling, clearly heavily influenced by Raymond Chandler, and there is something hugely compelling about the idea of such a character existing in Aberystwyth. I also enjoyed the very black sense of humour which is well-spread throughout the book - it is not the sort of book to make you laugh out loud, but I realised that I was smiling idiotically on the tube on the way to work this morning.

      To conclude, I think the book is a very clever mixture of black humour and crime fiction, with a dose of magic thrown in for good measure, yet all without being too silly. Highly recommended - but start from book number one.

      Available from Amazon for £5.99, reduced from £9.99. This is a paperback version, but is slightly larger than the average paperback. 272 pages, published by Bloomsbury. ISBN: 0747577129

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