‘A vespa’ said Joe who liked to use Italian words with Max, as if to emphasise their shared heritage. Max’s mother had been an Italian opera singer. ‘You know that’s what they call those little motorbikes,’ he added. ‘The ones the mods ride.’
Mods, young men in sharp suits who lounged about in coffee bars, listened to R&B music and occasionally roused themselves to have fights with rockers, had yet to surface in LA, but Max had seen plenty of them in Brighton. He thought that Joe’s single-breasted suit and thin tie owed something to the movement.
comments: Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway books are beyond criticism in my view – I love them unrelentingly. I’ve been with them since very early on, and I am very excited that the 13th book, The Lantern Men, is out in February. I can’t wait. But that made me realize that I had fallen behind in looking at Griffiths’ other books. Though my commitment can’t really be doubted: at the end of 2018 I loved The Stranger Diaries, a standalone. The latest Ruth book, The Stone Circle, I read breathlessly a year ago, then had to do some re-reading of earlier books from the series, as the plots looped round together. I re-read the festive short story Ruth’s First Christmas Tree every year. And also in 2019 Griffiths started ANOTHER series with a YA book about a schoolgirl detective, A Girl Called Justice.
But this one – the fifth of her Brighton Mysteries – came out in October 2019, when the blog was having a sabbatical. Time to catch up before being overtaken by the next one…
And this series just gets better and better. They are crime stories set in the recent past, and the wonderful seaside city of Brighton is the ever-important backdrop. By now it is 1964, and the regular characters have moved on a fair bit in their lives. Max is in Hollywood, a star married to another star. Edgar and Emma are busy with their lives and children, Ruby has a very successful TV magic show. They are reunited at the funeral of the excellent character Diabolo – he was quite old, so fair enough, but we will miss him in the books.
There is an elaborate, and very well-worked-out, crime plot, and much period detail, and of course the mods and rockers whose Bank Holiday fights in Brighton were such a very real feature of the time. There is Griffiths’ great writing - this example is Max thinking about why he got married:
He had looked into [her] eyes and had seen the promise of escape, a different life, a different identity. When he was in Cairo during the war Max had seen a man performing the Indian Rope Trick, the rope ascending upwards, seemingly without human interference. [She] had been his rope; he had grasped onto her and she had taken him towards the light.The real-life girls’ boarding school Roedean plays a part – faint echoes of the abovementioned schoolgirl detective series.
Griffiths is always good on the clothes:
She watched [her] descend the area steps:capri pants, a fisherman’s sweater, brown hair, jaunty beret. Same Collins.
[Actually Jean Shrimpton in 1964, from Kristine’s photostream]
And funny moments:
‘What do you think you’re doing? Turning up on my doorstep with a woman dressed up as a policeman.’
‘I am a policeman,’ said Meg.As ever the limited opportunities and minor and major annoyances for women of the era feature in the book, but not in a propaganda-ish way, it’s just factual, and the women have their own views of them.
This is such a Brighton book, like Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. The pier , the promenade, the ‘policemen in white helmets’.
Teenagers are a new and exciting breed, and there is a tiny sliver of light in the lives of gay men as Brighton is so very slightly more tolerant than other places at that time. A character blows ‘the froth from something purporting to be a cappuccino – the coffee craze had really hit Brighton with a vengeance.’
All human life is there, from the posh schoolgirls to Madame Astarte Zabini the fortune teller. Wild moped rides and underground tunnels, and girls gone missing. Danger and jeopardy and crime, but also the basic good-heartedness which is always present in Griffiths’ books. And at the end a really encouraging hint about the future for this particular series.
Elly Griffiths can write as many as she likes so far as I am concerned, and I will carry on reading them forever.
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