By Marty Mulrooney
Written In Dead Wax by novelist and screenwriter Andrew Cartmel (Midsomer Murders, Torchwood, Doctor Who) is the first book in a brand new series featuring ‘The Vinyl Detective’. Published in May 2016 by Titan Books, it’s a tale of priceless records, mysterious women, jazz history… and murder.
“Me? Really? Why?” She took out a card and handed it to me. It was a cheap and rather gaudy business card and it was very familiar.
Because it was one of mine.
Underneath my name and address I’d printed the words VINYL DETECTIVE.
It wasn’t until I started writing this review that I realised the Vinyl Detective’s real name is never revealed in Written In Dead Wax. The story is so charming, funny and engaging that I didn’t even realise. Written in the first person, the book’s protagonist is a young(ish) Londoner who lives with his two cats and pays the bills by selling records online for a small profit. It isn’t enough to pay for a new boiler – much to his feline companions’ chagrin – but it puts food on the table and lets him spend his time doing what he loves most: building up his record collection and listening to music that would otherwise be lost to the past.
Then a beautiful, mysterious woman turns up on his doorstep and turns his life upside down. She represents a wealthy client (whose identity she won’t reveal) and wants to pay him an obscene amount of money to find a priceless lost recording: Easy Come, Easy Go by Easy Geary, on the Hathor label. Several years prior he’d had business cards printed when he was bored and drunk, calling himself the Vinyl Detective and boasting that he could find any record – for a fee. Now this woman is offering a job that he can hardly afford to refuse.
Then our driver said, “You’re right. We’re being followed.”
I felt a cold irrational chill on the back of my neck. We were streaking along dark streets through Fulham Broadway. The brightly lit shop windows looked inappropriately cheery.
“What do you want me to do?” said our driver. In the back we looked at each other. We were rolling towards Putney Bridge.
You can really tell that Andrew Cartmel is intimately familiar with both London and the vinyl scene. There is a wonderful sense of time and place, each location filled with a varied cast of colourful characters. From Nevada (the beautiful, mysterious woman) to Tinkler (the Vinyl Detective’s marijuana smoking audiophile best friend) to Clean Head (the black cab driver roped into chauffeuring them around the city), each character speaks with dialogue that is wholly unique and sparkling with life.
Even more impressive, the protagonist’s passion for vinyl never comes across as preachy or boring. There is an engaging tapestry of technical information and jazz history being woven throughout, so convincing that it would take an expert to separate fact from fiction. The entire book could be the title character simply going from one charity shop to the next and it would likely still be an enjoyable read. The fact that people start turning up dead only adds to the excitement and greater central mystery of why this priceless lost recording is so important.
I realised I was being shot at. I stopped dead and the woman kept running. Nevada came up behind me, moving fast. “Get down,” she said, and shoved me down, hard, onto the snow. I saw she had her own gun in her hand, the one I had never asked her about.
She stopped and aimed it, using a professional two-handed grip, and fired.
The woman went down.
The Vinyl Detective has it all (apart from cat food and a new boiler, at least to begin with): intrigue, mystery, romance, action, travel, humour, music, history… the list goes on. It’s the perfect chilled-out read, whether you’re lazing on a Sunday afternoon listening to a modern CD player or a vintage turntable. Its 400+ pages (split appropriately in two halves, Side One & Side Two) can’t turn fast enough. It’s British crime fiction with an American jazz soundtrack and it’s delightful. As long as Andrew Cartmel keeps spinning these characters, I’ll keep reading.
9 OUT OF 10