Fiddle City

2 Mins read

fiddle_city200Written by Dan Kavanagh — When Julian Barnes’s pseudonymous PI novel Duffy was reissued earlier this year, the literary author found himself welcomed into the crime genre. Written under the name Dan Kavanagh, Duffy was a scandalously funny, violent and sordid debut from a writer who was clearly relishing a brief spell – he claimed to write them in days, not months – away from more considered writing. Decades after the books fell out of print, the series found belated recognition for its waspish, ironic prose and the presence of a bisexual ex-cop as a hero – a daring move in the early 80s.

However, Fiddle City is an altogether less satisfactory sequel in which Duffy attempts to uncover a spate of petty thefts from a warehouse that processes freight at Heathrow Airport. It’s not the most promising set-up for a crime story, though it certainly has some moments to shock you or make you smirk.

The novel begins on the M4 motorway with an eight-page description of a deliberate car crash that has you hooked and horrified, particularly as this was an era when wearing seatbelts was optional. The crash victim was an employee at Hendrick Freight, the company where Duffy ends up working undercover to find the thief who’s making off with the merchandise.

Of course, the crash is connected to the thieving, though it takes time for Duffy to unlock this investigation. As a result, Fiddle City is in large part a book about a private investigator passing himself off as a warehouseman. He loads and unloads deliveries, goes for lunch in the canteen with a grunting colleague and tries not to fall out with the frosty manager Mrs Boseley, a former air stewardess he suspects of concealing a secret.

The case gets more interesting when Duffy calls on a Heathrow customs officer for advice on how contraband gets smuggled into the country. Assuming this is based on Barnes’s research rather than his imagination, it’s an eye-opening account of the lengths criminals will go to in order to profit from drugs. At one point, the customs officer suggests that secreting drugs in glued-up pistachio shells might just get past him.

Duffy’s unique charm resides in his sardonic voice, burgeoning OCD and streetwise character, though he seems unusually moralistic on the scourge of drugs. It turns out that he once had a friend who became hopelessly addicted to heroin and flagrantly stole his possessions.

The detective’s only solace in this tiresome case is his long-term girlfriend, a cop, though their relationship has become platonic as a result of the trauma of his ousting from the force. He frets over her romantic excursions, while himself meeting strangers in gay bars. Sex is an obligatory element of a Duffy novel and the detective goes undercover in a sleazy club for research purposes. With his fastidious prose, Barnes depicts the Soho vice trade as pathetic, grubby and spectacularly poor value for money.

The author also has a penchant for torture scenes and Duffy shows his menacing side when the investigation comes to its conclusion. But Fiddle City is a stuttering story in which the amusing, elegant prose is more memorable than the plot. Hopefully the next installment in this revived crime series will have more suspense to accompany the sex and sadism.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

Related posts

The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone

Ah, Edinburgh, a classically beautiful city which combines a love of the arts with some fine architecture. It’s also home to the Skelfs, possibly crime fiction’s only funeral directors-cum-private detectives. And also, it seems, Edinburgh is harbouring a wild beast… Welcome to Doug Johnstone’s decidedly…

The Beresford by Will Carver

Will Carver’s literary thriller has more than a dollop of devilish doings. The author’s last few novels such as Good Samaritans, Nothing Important Happened Today and Hinton Hollow Death Trip have loosely or more closely focused on the work of his darkly troubled police detective…

The Waiter by Ajay Chowdhury

Some crime books have you hiding behind the cushions, while others make you cringe and shut your eyes in disgust… In a first for this reviewer, The Waiter made me hungry! Seems appropriate, then, that for the book’s online launch party, a number of reviewers…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Crime Fiction Lover