Written by Andrew Cartmel — The Vinyl Detective, whose name remains a secret, returns for a second escapade. Last year’s Written in Dead Wax was an entertaining romp linking amateur sleuthing with the hunt for rare records, a format that gives the author an opportunity to mix in a little real musical history – usually jazz – with a crime story.
In the first book, the detective was looking into a piece of jazz music from the 1920s. This time, he’s harking back to the swinging 60s. The detective and his girlfriend Nevada have been hired to find a rare, deleted single, but are drawn into the strange circumstances of folk-rock singer Valerian’s death and the disappearance of her infant son. Valerian’s brief but tumultuous fame ended tragically. The singer was known to have dallied with drugs and had a complicated personal life. For example, the paternity of her son was never confirmed. She was found hanging from a tree in her countryside retreat.
Their clients are John Drummond, the victim’s brother who is somewhat uptight and seems to have little in common with his late sister, and journalist Lucille Tegmark. Lucy’s father was a music journalist back in the day, who was preparing a book on Valerian and her band but abandoned it after the performer’s death.
They’ve accepted the case because they want to hear the the infamous deleted single, originally intended to promote the album All the Cats Love Valerian. The record was rumoured to contain a hidden Satanic message, and was pulled by the record company before it was ever released. Drummond and Tegmark believe there could be a clue in the song as to why she killed herself just a few months later.
As in Written in Dead Wax, the detective and Nevada are joined in their investigations by London cabbie Clean Head and their fellow music obsessive Tinkler. Valerian died at the height of her fame in the mid 60s so not everybody around from that time is available to be interviewed. For instance, Valerian’s sister Cecilia, a pianist and backing singer with the band, spent many years in various psychiatric institutions after her sister’s death and nobody knows her whereabouts or even if she is still alive.
The team carry on in their rather haphazard investigative style. This seems quite appropriate since they are not actually detectives and it suits the nature of the characters and the tone of the storytelling. There is a breezy, informal feel to this, whether it be the back and forth between London and Canterbury for the investigation, or the affectionate and slightly cheeky conversation between the four investigators. While they face a certain amount of violence and peril – such as being dosed with LSD, and threatened with a shotgun – this is not a hardboiled adventure by any account.
The Run-Out Groove is a step up from the first book, which suffered a little from the problem of having to introduce us to so many oddball characters as well as providing a mystery. In his second book, Cartmel is able to get straight into the story, which whips along nicely, though as a consequence it also means you’ll need to have read the first book to enjoy this one fully. The mystery itself is perhaps a little too slight, but most crime fans and music addicts will certainly enjoy it.
Check out or review the first book in the series, Written in Hot Wax.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars