It was raining heavily outside and the streets, glassy and shiny, were largely deserted as I sped down Great Darkgate Street to the hospital. My heart was racing and my mouth dry; the news that Evans the Boot was dead meant nothing, but the revelation that Myfanwy and Brainbocs had been lovers was a pile-driver to the heart...
Raymond Chandler, aka Louie Knight, is a private eye who prowls the mean streets of Aberystwyth, a professional snoop in a town where most people do it as a hobby. This is a dark place of back-alleys, whelk-stalls, greasy-spoon cafés, strip-joints, ice cream kiosks, ill-lit dives, tawdry gift-shops, a dodgy nightclub called the Moulin Goch and an all-night diner on Llanbadarn Road; the favourite tipple is Ffestiniog Chardonnay.
The joint is run by a sinister group of toughs known as the Druids, gangsters in mistletoe, who drive around in Montegos with blacked-out windows. Louie can remember a time when they were content with organising the Eisteddfod, parading in their pillow-cases and wellingtons painted with white emulsion, but now they are up to much more dastardly activities. Boys start disappearing and Louie is hired to find out why.
The action is complicated, deadpan and fast-paced, sending up the whole genre of noir fiction by imitating the more grotesque features of the dime novel, just as the lurid jacket design, with its trench-coated hero, smoking gun and shameless hussy in basque and Welsh hat standing against the butt end of Old College, is meant to be read as a pastiche: LA on the Rheidol, as it were. The title may owe something to Hiroshima mon amour but this is more My Cutie is a Corpse.
The plot doesnt bear thinking about. Suffice to say that Louie enlists the help of Sospan, an emperor of ice cream, in a bid to solve the whodunnit. Gwenno Guevara, leader of a clandestine band of freedom fighters, turns out to be Mrs Llantrisant, the woman who cleans Louies dingy office above the Orthopaedic Boot shop, and the Grand Wizard of the Druids to be Lovespoon, the local Welsh teacher, drawn here with what seems to be real animus. The apocalyptic finale involves the drowning of the old town beneath the waters of the bombed Nant-y-moch reservoir.
Aberystwyth, as Louie observes, is a great place for a connoisseur of irony. This may come as a surprise to the reader who has hitherto thought of the town as the last refuge of thwarted ambition where the inhabitants, after a while, start eating lotuses and forgot the madness of the world as completely as those marooned on the island of Gwales in the Mabinogion. Curiously, there is hardly a mention of the University, the National Library, the Books Council or the Urdd.
It is worth keeping an eye out for irony on every page of this clever little book. Its not the Welsh Irvine Welsh, as the blurb claims, but as a send-up of pulp fiction and the more preposterous aspects of the kitsch that too often passes for Welsh traditional culture it has all the charm of a comic-strip or a B-movie or a comedy on S4C thats so awful its compulsive.
It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgement should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.
Gellir defnyddior adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.