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Bookends: Introducing the book version of George Gently January 16, 2017

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends, mystery.
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Bookends: Introducing the book version of George Gently

By Dan Davidson

February 24, 2016gently-does-it

– 790 words –

 

Gently Does It

By Alan Hunter

Hachette Book Group Digital

133 pages in print length

Kobo edition

$7.99

 

Alan Hunt may have wanted to be a poet. Certainly his first book was something called The Norwich Poems, after which there were no more published books until 1955, when the one I’m reviewing this week appeared. It was the first of 48 novels in a series that continued until 1999.

He’s not the only genre writer to take this kind of detour. Max Brand, best known as a writer of paperback Westerns, really wanted to be a poet, but ended up writing over 500 books in a variety of genres, including the creation of Doctor James Kildare.

I picked up Gently Does it because I am a fan of the George Gently series of 90 minute mini-movies produced in two to four episodes yearly by the BBC since 2007.

Hunter’s Gently doesn’t bear much resemblance to the character played by Martin Shaw in the series. That fellow is a widower, a bit of a cynic, often bluff, but unfailingly kind. In this book, at least, he’s older, thinking about retirement, still connected to the London police, and working alone. TV’s Gently has great suspicions about police corruption. The bookish Gently is more concerned with their dunderheadedness. Also, British TV mysteries tend to have a mentor/student pattern to them, (see the Morse and Lewis series, or the various iterations of Midsomer Murders) but there’s no sign of the brash young John Bacchus in this book.

The BBC series also made the style decision to have all the stories take place from 1964 on, allowing for a “British Invasion” style of soundtrack and a variety of increasingly shaggy haircuts. Grant had written 12 of these books by 1964, and this one is very much mid-fifties England of 60 years ago.

In this first book, Gently is already an established name in police circles, but all he was looking for when he arrived in Norchester was a good fishing hole and a bit of leisure. Instead, as a visiting homicide expert, he gets roped into an investigation that the locals really can’t handle.

Just because he’s been asked to sit in doesn’t mean that the locals really want him, or that they are interested in anything other than closing the case quickly, even it the closure they want isn’t accurate. The reason they didn’t want one of the other CID specialists was that he had proven them wrong on a prior case. That probably told Gently a lot about how this case would go.

For Gently, the big problem with pinning the murder of timber merchant Huysmann on his estranged son is that he saw the young man perform his “Walls of Death” (look it up – I had to) motorcycle act at a local circus and was certain that a) there wasn’t time enough for him to have done the deed and b) he would never have had the nerve to do his act if he had either murdered his father or was planning to do so later. Also, he liked the young man and his wife.

This is slender stuff to base an acquittal on, and he knows it, but he keeps digging away at all the other possible folk who might have had means, motive or opportunity, and it’s not that long before he picks a more likely villain or two.

So do we, but that’s all right. Hunter’s Gentle Reminder, as the book begins, runs as follows.

“This is a detective story, but NOT a ‘whodunit’. Its aim is to give a picture of a police inspector slowing building up his knowledge of a crime to a point, not where he knows who did it –both you and he know that at a fairly early stage – but to a point where he can bring a charge which will convince a jury.

“I thought it worthwhile mentioning this, I hate being criticized for not doing what I had no intention of doing.”

There are lots of red herrings, and some nasty folk who are doing things that look very suspicious. Indeed, eventually one of them gets arrested for the very crime the local force had booked the son for, which gets him off the hook. But while Gently had pointed them in this bloke’s direction, they are less than pleased when he tells them that, whatever his sins, murder probably isn’t one of them.

I enjoyed this rather mannered mystery. About the only thing that irked me was the Inspector’s fixation with peppermint cream candies, which seemed to make an appearance nearly every other page.

 

-30-

 

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