The Vinyl Detective

Created by Andrew Cartmel

As anyone hep to the jive knows, the twelve-inch LP enjoyed an unexpected comeback of sorts among mostly younger hipsters and wannabes in the 2010s, while audiophiles and aging old-school rockers from Jack White to Neil Young strutted around saying “I told you so!”

Which probably explains why this series, pretty much a valentine to a technology that almost everybody thought had reached its expiry date decades ago, was itself dusted off and greenlit.

After all, what could be hipper than a murder mystery set against the background of the New Age of Vinyl?

Well, this curiously out-of-sync series, for one. Because the recent vinyl boom simply doesn’t exist here– the only market is a handful of oddball collectors, each more obsessed and eccentric than last one. Certainly there’s no evidence that vinyl is anything but a collector’s fetish in the debut, Written in Dead Wax (2016). Which makes me suspect this sat in a drawer for years, before it was published.

Instead we’re treated to the first person adventures of the nameless young VINYL DETECTIVE of the title. He’s a crate-digger, a regular denizen of estate sales and charity shops, constantly on the prowl for rare records he can resell for a profit. This would-be Bilbo Baggins lives in a cozy little bungalow on the grounds of a former abbey, content with his dusty old jazz records, his beloved coffee and a petty rivalry with a local DJ. His biggest worries are the purchase of a new furnace and keeping the cats, Turk and Fanny, fed.

And then trouble comes calling, in the guise of a Ms. N. Warren, aka “Nevada,” the possessor of an “implausible, almost laughable physical perfection” and more than a few secrets, who wants to pay him a huge wad of dough to track down a very specific old jazz record, on behalf of a wealthy but anonymous collector.

But that’s just the beginning. Before it’s over, our hero and Nevada will have to face guns, bombs, and journeys east (Japan) and west (the U.S.) as they hunt for the rare platter. And the solution to a decades-old murder. And maybe a new one or two.

I found it all curiously slow-placed, a 78 intentionally played at 33. There’s a coded message of sorts whose solution is parceled out at a rate only slightly slower than continental drift. I can imagine amateur cryptologists — or any other half awake reader — shouting Get the fuck on with it! The few action scenes, when they come, seem to have been airlifted in from a much louder book.

Yet, somehow, the book managed a low-key charm that prompted not so much interest as curiosity in me. Where would the author go with this?

Because, for all its at-times turgid and meandering pacing, Cartmel nailed the obsessive nature of the rock’n’roll collector’s mindset with just the right amount of cheekiness, the array of quirky characters (instantly familiar to regular consumers of BBC America and PBS), and the unapologetically sweet ending certainly wouldn’t upset anyone — even me. This one’s built for comfort, not for speed. Plus, I sorta liked the cover.

Which has been reapeated in only slightly altered form in several sequels.

The author, Andrew Carmel, is a novelist, playwright and screenwriter, whose work for the BBC television includes a three year stint as script editor on Doctor Who. He’s also written scripts for Midsomer Murders and Torchwood.


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. This entry originally appeared, in slightly altered form, as a review in Mystery Scene. Reprinted with permission of the author.

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