Malcolm Pryce's witty and scabrous comic thriller Aberystwyth Mon Amour is an original and diverting entry into the field of black-comedy writing--a genre which has enjoyed a long and healthy lineage, from Voltaire through Evelyn Waugh to the present day although lately it is pretty well the preserve of crime fiction. Making the unexciting Welsh town of Aberystwyth seem as fascinating and dangerous for his hardboiled 'tec as the mean streets of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles is a daunting task but it's a trick Pryce pulls off with considerable aplomb.
Throughout Aberystwyth, schoolboys are vanishing without trace, and Louie Knight, the town's only private investigator, becomes involved when he has a visit from the exotic singer Myfanwy Montez (love the name!). She is the star of Wales' most outrageous nightclub, and is keen for Louie to track down her missing cousin, known as Evans the Boot. Aided by such eccentrics as philosopher-cum-ice-cream seller Sospan, Louie finds himself encountering a plot quite as labyrinthine as any which exercised Philip Marlowe. Surely Lovespoon, Grand Wizard of the Druids and the town's most powerful citizen, had a hand in the disappearances?
Nothing is quite as it seems in Pryce's outrageous and irreverent tale, which functions as a canny thriller as much as a wry parody. A good deal of the humour comes from relocating Chandler's sun-baked California locales to a parochial Welsh town, and all the clichés are ruthlessly exploded: Louie is visited in his seedy office by his sultry female client in time-honoured fashion. But it's the language, which leaps off the page, that really marks Pryce out as a stylist of no mean skill, and his bizarre refraction of Marlowe-speak is a real delight:
By the time I reached the whelk stall the drizzle had finally made up its mind and turned into rain, driving forward hard off the sea and into my face. The booth was quiet: no-one there except a kid in charge--a pimply adolescent in a grubby white coat and a silly cardboard hat. I ordered the special and waited, as the youth kept a wary eye on me; trouble was never far away at this time of night. . --Barry Forshaw