“Before the end of 2019, I received an email from a Mr Martin Grey of Clacton-on-Sea.”
Graeme Macrae Burnet’s published books split into two – on the one hand we have the quasi French detecto entertainments of M. Gorski, here and here, and then we have the deeper psychology of his acclaimed Bloody Project and now this: We have moved south from Scotland to Primrose Hill, we have shuffled a century onwards to the 1960s, not quite so swinging as it turns out, here the cafe‘s sole customer is “a young woman in a pillbox hat gazing sadly at a half eaten chocolate éclair”.
There are lovely opposites and contradictions here.
As in the other books Burnet has distanced himself from the usual position of author, he tells us his proposal to write a profile of the extraordinary, disgraced, mad psychologist has been knocked back by his agent, but then he receives a cache of private papers. In a quiz show sense, you the reader have to decide whether they are worth publishing, or whether the mystery is worth the telling. His primary confidant quickly admits that she has “little talent for composition” which is, of course, inaccurate because she is being ghost written by Burnet, the composition here is as finely finished as a Wedgewood chest of drawers, not so much a whodunit as a wasitdunnit? and if it was whyonearth? or whatoneearth??
Little touches – mentions of familiar figures of the time like teh actor Dirk Bogarde showing up at a party, the mother with her Woolworth’s moment, the children who read Biggles – make it feel very real and particular.
Even if you didn’t believe, you do because it is so precise – “the library is on Crown Street… he is reading in the Denes, an area of parkland adjoining Cocker Beck…a few minutes walk from Westlands Road”. Got it? You might hop on a train and find that spot.
As with Project we are dealing with the notion of sanity. Or not. The imagery is very much of growing up or growing old. The plot is secondary to the characters who bloom in their own way, so you might want to stop and spend some more time with them, each in turn has a slight query hanging over them, they are incomplete in the same way as the story is as messed up as a jigsaw puzzle.
As carefully described as are the rest of the cast, even the victim and raison d’etre, even the grand inquisitor, even the loving father, the would be boyfriend, the mysterious housekeeper etc, there is only one diva emerging out of a chrysalis here…