Sunday, September 01, 2013

Let Dover Come Over

Chief Inspector Wilfred Dover is a difficult man to get along with. He’s fat, he’s lazy, he’s rude, he’s inconsiderate – in fact, in just about every measurable way, Dover is a repulsive human being. So woe to the criminal forced to deal with Dover, because it will be an extremely unpleasant experience. That’s what someone in Creedshire is about to learn.

It all started with the disappearance of Juliet Rugg, a young girl who weighs sixteen stone. The grotesquely large girl was even more repulsive than Dover by all accounts, and so nobody really seems to care about her disappearance. But it’s Dover’s job to care, even though he thinks it’s a gigantic waste of his time. But as the investigation proceeds, the question becomes more puzzling: just what did happen to Juliet? The unique circumstances, described in detail in Joyce Porter’s Dover One, make an accidental death, a suicide, an elopement, and a kidnapping seem utterly impossible. The only option remaining is murder… but where could you stuff such a large girl?

Dover One came to my attention during a lively discussion of the Golden Age Detection group on Facebook. It seems that everyone agreed that Joyce Porter was a marvellous writer and could plot ingeniously, but that Dover was such a repulsive and disgusting character that it was hard to take at times. Naturally, this intrigued me, and I vowed to search out the Dover books. My search came grinding to a halt when I failed to discover the books in any of my usual sources (and, over the summer, ordering physical books online is just about impossible for me, for various reasons). Then, to my joy a couple of weeks ago, I discovered that the book was Kindle available… but only in the U.K. However, after some hanky-panky (which I prefer not to discuss on here), I was able to procure a copy of the book for myself.

The result was every bit as marvellous as I had been led to expect. Dover One is, quite simply put, a masterpiece. It’s a delightfully plotted book which constantly surprised me. Every time I was certain I knew what happened to Juliet Rugg, Joyce Porter’s hand rose like some malignant goblin and pulled the rug out from under me, leaving me puzzled all over again. As for the solution, well, all I will say is that I wasn’t expecting that.

It’s a funny book too. There’s a simply splendid Colonel named Colonel Bing, who gets many of the book’s loudest laughs (though the Colonel’s pesky poodle gets some fairly audible giggles as well). There’s also a woman named Amy Freel who’s loads of fun, a woman who’s read far too many detective novels and is all-too-eager to share her wild theories with Chief Inspector Dover: “But I’ve got one or two theories of my own which might interest you. They’ll probably strike you as a bit far-fetched at first, but they do give us a lead. Now, if we could all work together on this, I’m sure we’ll be able to get it solved in no time. I could be a sort of unofficial collaborator, you know, like the amateur detectives in the books, and you could …”

Overall, Dover One is a joy to behold: it’s a book that simply must be experienced. If you want to have a good laugh and experience some ingenious plotting while you’re at it, why not come and put up with Dover for a while? The man can be absolutely insufferable, but when he wants to be, he can be quite clever. Dover is rather like a poorly-bred Mycroft Holmes.

Note: The e-edition has been published by Bello, and the following statement appears after the book has concluded:

“The book remains true to the original in every way. Some aspects may appear out-of-date to modern readers. Bello makes no apology for this, as to retrospectively change any content would be anachronistic and undermine the authenticity of the original.”

To whoever at Bello came to this decision: thank you! For years, publishers have been shame-facedly altering the texts of Golden Age detective novels, embarrassed at stuff that was in the original editions. It seems that very few people came to the very logical and common-sense conclusion that Bello came to.

11 comments:

  1. One of the great aspects of the Dover books is you never know how the mystery will be solved. Sometimes Dover solves it despite himself (70% of the time), sometimes MacGregor solves it (20%), and sometimes the killer confesses spontaneously (10%).

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  2. I don't know why the BBC or ITV hasn't made a series based on Dover yet. My dream cast would be Robbie Coltrane as Dover and David Tennant as MacGregor.

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    1. While that would be an awesome TV show, they are rather busy men I would imagine...

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  3. Thanks for a reminder of a great book! I read it years ago but might just have to get it down again now. Even though I can remember exactly what happened to the fat girl....

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    1. Certainly not the kind of fate one would forget!

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  4. I'll give it a try (thank god for interlibrary loan service). I tried a Dover book years ago and couldn't get into it, but I'll make another attempt. Dover surfaced on my radar from an essay she wrote for "Murder Ink" on the difficulties of writing humorous crime fiction, in which by the fourth draft you're tearing your hair out at the sheer drudgery.

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    1. I can imagine! From my few aborted attempts at writing a short story, I've seen how hard it is to write a straightforward story. Now try that while making your reader laugh - it boggles the mind as to how practitioners like Craig Rice and Joyce Porter could do it so well!

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  5. The BBC have broadcast radio versions of 5 novels over the past decade (Dover Goes to Pott, Dover and the Claret Toppers, Dover Beats The Band, Dover and the Unkindest Cut of All, Dover and The Sleeping Beauty (Dover 2)) and one original story (Dover and the Smoking Gun)
    - more details at http://www.radiolistings.co.uk/programmes/Index-D.html#DO

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    1. Thank you for the link, Mark. I'd probably rather read the novels before listening, but I can probably give the original story a try with clear conscience. :)

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  6. Kenneth Cranham is great casting for the radio versions. I have a book of short stories featuring the character, which I shall try and fine in my pile of books - cheers Patrick.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Sergio! If you review it in the near future I look forward to reading your reactions.

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