This is not the book I was looking for when I went to the library. I had hoped to find the third in Davies’ Cornish Trilogy, What’s Bred in the Bone. However, I was happy enough to find Murther and Walking Spirits, and I was thrilled with the opening. One of the best ever:
I was never so amazed in my life as when the Sniffer drew his concealed weapon from its case and struck me to the ground. Stone dead.
The thrill went on for quite a while. The narrator, or his spirit, was killed after catching his wife in bed with a colleague/friend. He watches his body being carted away, follows the two of them around for a while. We’re set up to be involved in a delicious revenge plot carried out from beyond.
Then, in a sudden turn, we’re at a rather dull film festival. Both the narrator and his murderer are newspaper film critics. The narrator is the arts editor. The bludgeoned spirit seemingly has no control over where he goes and what he sees. Neither, of course, do we. The murderer goes to the film festival as part of his professional duties. The films he sees are not the ones our narrator sees, and too bad.
What’d presented is a long documentary of the victim’s ancestry and ancestors, dating from the eighteenth century. How his forebears arrived in Canada from the U.S., England, Wales. It’s all a fairly interesting narrative–as documentaries go. But the characters are so many and we see all of them so briefly that we have so single person or set of persons to invest ourselves in. In the meantime, the core of the story, or what we have been led to believe is the core–the murderer, his victim, and the just deserts–languishes.
Davies picks this last up nicely in the last thirty or so pages, but by then it’s too late, at least for me. Dramatic tension and momentum have been leached by the preceding three hundred and twenty.
Murther is full of the usual Davies wit and erudition, it’s in many ways an entertaining and admirable read. However, I’d have to rate it, sadly, an overall disappointment. Next time it will be What’s Bred in the Bone or nothing.