It’s safe to say that, of Kingsley Amis’s books, The Crime of the Century is one of the least known, even to experienced crime writers. So, although Amis remains a well-read author, this quirky little volume is a suitable subject for Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books for Friday.
I first became aware of The Crime of the Century when it appeared in a rather good, though regrettably short-lived paperback series known as Dent Mastercrime. This, in 1987, represented the story’s first incarnation in book form – it had begun life as a newspaper serial twelve years earlier.
Amis provided a very interesting introduction, explaining how he came to write a mystery for The Sunday Times – basically, for the money. He says, ‘all writing is and should be to some extent a process of imitation’ and adds that he found writing the book ‘a most valuable piece of training or refresher course in the basic fictional skills’. He clearly enjoyed writing the story, even if he did find it quite hard work.
I enjoyed reading it, too. I think it’s fair to say that the early part of the mystery is the strongest – a girl is found stabbed in the back, and proves to be the first victim in a series of killings. The main protagonists are Detective Superintendent Bill Barry, and a detective novelist suffering from writer’s block.
When I first bought this book, having a novel of my own published was still a dream. But I did think I would fancy writing a serial one day, and I still do – The Sunday Times only has to ask! But inevitably they prefer star names like Amis, and although he wasn’t the best mystery plotter in the world, this is a creditable effort, which does not deserve to be completely forgotten.