BOOK REVIEW – The Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

By Marty Mulrooney

The Vinyl Detective Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

Flip Back is the fourth book in the Vinyl Detective series written by Andrew Cartmel and published by Titan Books. Following on from Written In Dead Wax – “charming, funny and engaging” – The Run-Out Groove – “a follow-up every bit the equal of its highly memorable predecessor” – and Victory Disc – “beautifully orchestrated and well worth taking for a spin” – Flip Back finds the Vinyl Detective trying to hunt down a rare copy of an electric folk band’s final album. But as always, there are complications…

I’ve been shot at before.
I had hoped it would never happened again.
The way it came about this time was, like so many misadventures in my life, largely thanks to the intervention of one Jordon Tinkler.

In a nice change of pace from the previous books in the series to date, the Vinyl Detective’s latest client is none other than his best friend Tinkler. The record he’s after? Wisht by Black Dog, a band famous for burning a million dollars on a remote island off the coast of England as a publicity stunt at the height of their fame. However, Tinkler doesn’t want just any copy of the album.

The first version – the one with the ‘flip back’, hence the name of this latest adventure – was recalled to the factory and destroyed following a contractual dispute within the group. After the unhappy band member left, the remaining members re-recorded all of the same songs and re-released the album with exactly the same catalogue number and cover art – the only difference being the lack of a flip back.

“And what is that?”
I showed her, illustrating the point with a copy of a John Mayall album from the Blues section. “It’s got this laminated cover, you see, and at the back it’s got these sort of…”
“Flips, at the back?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“But surely the word is flaps?”
I shrugged, returning the Blues Breakers to their appointed section.

It’s an interesting and intriguing history for the series’ latest MacGuffin and despite the lack of any immediate danger, the Vinyl Detective soon develops the distinct impression that he is being followed, listened to and watched as he begins his investigation. Then, while visiting rock guitarist Erik Make Loud’s home with Tinkler to strike a deal with one of Black Dog’s surviving band members, a gunman turns up and starts shooting.

From this moment the stakes have been irrevocably raised. The setting soon switches to Halig Island, with the Vinyl Detective, his girlfriend Nevada, Tinkler and their taxi-driving friend Clean Head visiting each remaining Black Dog band member in turn to root through their record collections. It’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds, with one of the book’s most thrilling chapters involving the island’s dangerous tides and some confusion about the crossing times.

I cleared my throat. “Are we closer to the mainland or the island?”
“Hang on,” said Clean Head in a taut voice. “Just checking the satnav.” She nodded her head without looking back at us. “The island. Just.”
“Then we should -”
If I thought we’d been flung back in our seats before, it was nothing compared to what happened now as we were thrown forward. Clean Head had released the handbrake and was accelerating steeply and without hesitation – in reverse.

Cartmel makes Halig Island – an entirely fictional island inspired by the real life island of Lindisfarne – a character in itself, with its many mysteries revealing themselves at a satisfying pace even as the central plot continues to thicken. The hunt for the Wisht record soon becomes secondary, with a fiery million dollar publicity stunt of yesteryear rising from the ashes to take centre stage.

As longtime fans of the series should expect by now the writing is sharp, funny and engaging throughout, and the main characters have never been more likeable (even if Nevada does dismiss media studies as a ‘Mickey Mouse degree’ at one point!). The words easy reading – much like easy listening – often evoke negative connotations, which is silly really. Flip Back is the very definition of easy reading and it’s wonderful; it’s a book filled with warmth and good humour – despite a touch of murder – that often feels like reacquainting yourself with old friends.

He shrugged off the blanket that had been concealing his hands. Those hands were wearing purple latex gloves and were holding what at first looked like a stubby length of thin piping.
But, in fact, it was a sawn-off shotgun.

The latest Vinyl Detective novel continues the series’ fine tradition of telling fictional stories that seem entirely plausible. There hasn’t been a dud note in the Vinyl Detective’s oeuvre to date and Flip Back is no exception; in fact, it might just be his greatest whodunnit yet.

9 OUT OF 10

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