Given how much I have enjoyed my brief forays into Quentin’s work, I really need to make more of an effort to remember to return to his work a little more often. Today’s read is a case in point. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into when I read The Saturday Review’s Criminal Record review of this title, which says of the book that ‘Duluth’s didoes with sultry females, his amnesiac deducing, and completely surprising solution, make easy, if wacky reading.’ They sum it up as ‘triumphant silliness.’ Having now read the book I can see where they were going, though I think ‘silliness’ overlooks the darker elements of the story. However, I should probably tell what the book is about…
The book opens with Iris departing to Tokyo for work, whilst her husband Peter Duluth has just been demobbed and is off for a get together in San Diego. The amount of alcohol Peter has consumed is mentioned more than once in those first two pages, as is the fact that he offers to give a young man a ride. This is not without reason as after this prologue the reader is confronted with a first-person narration from Peter, who wakes up in an unfamiliar bed. Yet his problems are more than his physical injuries, as he is now suffering from amnesia. Even worse he is confronted by “relations,” a mother, a wife, a sister, who we know he doesn’t have, yet who have taken upon themselves to take him to their home and claim that they are. So, what is their game? On top of figuring this out, in a situation which becomes a matter of life and death, Peter has to try and remember who he is. Along the way he begins to uncover the truth about the death of the man his “relations” are purporting was his father. But in this conspiracy of lies who can he trust? Who is friend and who is foe? Will he jump out of the frying pan of one problem straight into the fire of another?
As my final rating shows this was a book I strongly enjoyed. I find Quentin’s structuring of the mystery refreshing and I think he did a good job of creating a narrative appropriate for someone who has detective skills, yet who is suffering from amnesia. Interestingly in some ways we know as much as Peter does, yet because we know his real identity, we are also a bit further forward than him and can soon identify some of the lies his “relations” try to feed him with.
What makes this mystery so intriguing is that Peter’s “relations” are not just hiding one secret, but almost a series of secrets in the manner of a Russian doll, and not all of the family members are aware of the full extent of them. This makes figuring out who Peter can trust all the more interesting and Quentin certainly pulls the rug from under the reader in this respect.
I also feel that Quentin is playing around with the HIBK/heroine in jeopardy formula of mystery writing, placing Peter in such a situation, where he is helpless and dependent on others, ironically (in terms of gender reversal), mostly on women. Quentin utilises the elements of danger and tension to great effect, making several lulls before the storm that finally erupts at the end of the novel. Yet the author also upends some of the woman in peril tropes. One moment of upending is particularly brilliant, as it is rooted in the sure knowledge that the reader will have swallowed a statement delivered very early on in the story. It’s just simply a point you wouldn’t question or be suspicious of.
What adds to the intricate layers of this plot is the personalities within the family group, as they engagingly grip you and contribute towards the story’s drama. Quentin also plays upon the assumptions we are likely to make about these characters and there is no clear dichotomy between friends and enemies, which helps to effectively muddy the investigative waters.
There are currently several copies online for under £5, so I would definitely recommend grabbing them while you can, as this was a highly enjoyable book, which combines an intriguing and unusual mystery with some engrossing characters.