Friday, 15 May 2009

Forgotten Book - Testkill


Successful crime novels with a sporting background are rare – Dick Francis’ racing thrillers being a notable exception. Cricket, a complex game that provokes passionate devotion in its fans and baffled boredom in its detractors, features as a background element in quite a number of crime novels, perhaps most famously in Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, while the gentleman burglar Raffles was a skilled bowler. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a cricketer and huge fan of the game, but sadly he never involved Sherlock Holmes in a cricketing mystery.

My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books is Testkill, in which cricket is very much in the foreground. Testkill was co-written by Ted Dexter, a former England cricket captain, and one of the game’s most charismatic figures (‘Lord Ted’ was his nickname, and he played to entertain, unlike many of his contemporaries n the dour 1960s), and Clifford Makins, a journalist. It was first published n 1976 and I devoured it the following year, as soon as Penguin published it in paperback – it was the first book I read when recovering from over-indulgence after my final exams at university, and the light, agreeable mystery definitely assisted the recovery process!

The setting is a Lord’s Test Match, with England playing Australia. When one of the bowlers collapses and drops dead in mid-pitch, it soon becomes apparent that murder has been done. The background is authentically done, and this is the real appeal of the book. The whodunit plot isn’t really in the Christie class, but it’s a breezy thriller, and it achieved enough success to tempt Dexter and Makins to write a follow-up, this time set in the golfing world, called Deadly Putter, which I haven't read. If you fancy a bit of escapism with lashings of cricket lore, Testkill is still worth a read.

11 comments:

David Cranmer said...

I appreciate an author who can set a mystery/crime around a subject (like cricket) that most of us are unfamiliar with and build a suspenseful tale.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would think an entire series set in various sporting venues could be most successful.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. I certainly agree.

Dorte H said...

In Playing for the Ashes by Elizabeth George cricket also plays an important role.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I'd forgotten this one, Dorte. It was very brave for an American woman writer to tackle cricket, and I greatly admired George for doing so. I wash't really sure she'd fully 'got' the game, but it was nevertheless an impressive as well as ambitious novel.

bish8 said...

I've had this in my collection of sports mysteries forever. I'm going to have to give it a try.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul, do give it a try. I don't claim it is an absolute masterpiece, but it's light and breezy - and not too long!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Paul, do give it a try. I don't claim it is an absolute masterpiece, but it's light and breezy - and not too long!

Anonymous said...

I found Testkill in a second hand shop and thought I'd give it a try, but it was agony and I gave up fairly quickly. The protagonist, probably based on Dexter himself, is an incredibly dull chap. Don't agree with "light and breezy" - I skipped to the end and the final chapter, a supposed suicide note, is a laboured, wordy and entirely unbelievable melange of drugs, lesbianism and fast bowling - which should be good, of course, but in this book just isn't!

Anonymous said...

My husband bought me this as a sort of joke while the recent test series was on. I thought it was possibly the worst book I have ever read. Anonymous' comments were spot on. The narrator ( hero?)spent his entire time downing huge amounts of champagne and whiskey and being gnomic. In fact everyone in the book was completely impenetrable. The sex was about as realistic as the plot. His wife must have been a masochist. He failed to mention whether she too was having an affair with his mistress. There was no sleuthing as such - he spent a great deal of the book being called to rooms and offices around the ground, being offered yet another drink and then being told NOTHING. The solution proffered in the guise of a suicide note was the lamest thing since Long John Silver. In short, anything else you can find to do in stead of reading this book wil be time better spent.
Anonymous 2

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for these comments. Well, it's a book, like cricket itself, that evidently provokes mixed reactions!