Friday, 21 March 2014

Forgotten Books - Dover and the Unkindest Cut of All

One of the late Robert Barnard's favourite humorous crime novels was Joyce Porter's Dover and the Unkindest Cut of All. I read the Bello ebook edition on holiday recently, and it's my choice for today's Forgotten Book. This was her third book featuring DCI Wilfred Dover of Scotland Yard, and was first published in 1967. I really enjoyed it, and felt it lived up to Bob's praise.

I first encountered the character of Dover, improbably, on television. In the Sixties, the BBC had a show called Detective, which I came across as a teenager some years after it began. The series introduced me to some fascinating detectives and writers, and it's a matter for great regret that there are no DVD versions available. In fact, I gather that many of the original shows have been wiped, although one hopes that bootleg copies may exist somewhere, and will eventually resurface. Even if the production values would now seem dated, this was a series of real quality.

The point about Dover is that he is an anti-hero, fat, lazy and rude. The story opens when he and his long-suffering wife are on their way for a seaside holiday.a trip interrupted when someone commits suicide in front of their eyes, throwing himself into the sea. The dead man proves to be a young police officer, Dover is, much to his disgust, dragged into the inquiry into what caused the young chap to kill himself.

Comic crime is very difficult to write. It's much easier to make a mess of it than a success. And because humour is subjective, it's extremely difficult to write a comic mystery that will have widespread appeal. Yet after nearly half a century, this story struck me as entertaining and genuinely funny. A quick, easy read, with plenty of enjoyable scenes. I don't know much about Joyce Porter (though I do know she came from Marple in Cheshire, a nice place where contemporary crime writers Chris Simms and Michael Walters live) but at her best, she was a fun writer, and though I don't know of anyone who knew her personally, I suspect she was a fun person as well.

9 comments:

John said...

Synchronicty strikes again! I'm about to read all my Dover books starting next month. Can't wait. I've been wanting to read Joyce Porter's crime ficiton for a long time now. Also, you might be interested to know that I found some info about the Detective TV series which debuted in 1964 then reappeared fro two more sesons in 1968 and 1969. The entry for the TV show at imdb.com says this:

"The survival rate for this series is very hit-and-miss. Of the eighteen episodes from the first season only twelve are currently known to exist; likewise six of the sixteen editions from the second run are considered lost, and just one of the final ten survives in the archives."

I wish there were some copies of these shows. Among the episodes are adaptations of some classics: The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin, The Judas Window by Carter Dickson, Artists in Crime by Ngaio Marsh, and The Singing Sands by Josephine Tey. I also saw titles by Michael Innes, G.K. Chesterton, R. Austin Freeman, Delano Ames, R.C. Woodthorpe, Ethel Lina White, and on and on. It was quite a roster! I'd be eager to see almost all of them.

Martin Edwards said...

John, as always, thanks for this. I don't know whether you ever saw Detective in the US? It really did fascinate me - I was too young for the 64 series, but saw quite a few of the later ones, and loved them.

neer said...

This has long been on my wishlist (at least since I saw it featured on the Torzai Top 100 Mysteries). Thanks for the post.

Kacper said...

Oh, I do like Joyce Porter - I enjoy the Dover novels a lot, though I slightly prefer the Honourable Constance (AKA the Hon. Con.), an ambiguously lesbian member of the gentry who is even less competent than Dover but very slightly less repugnant.

I occasionally find that her characters are so vile that I can't really enjoy her novels much, even though I'm clearly not supposed to like the characters - in my reading I always to want at least one or two characters per novel I can root for (though poor MacGregor mostly fulfills that requirement). Still, that's not usually the case, just once in a while - it's best if you don't read more than one or two of her novels in a row.

Porter also does a curious thing sometimes - in a very zany, ridiculous novel, she'll suddenly bring in a denouement that is actually quite serious. Her culprits and their motives are often plausible and wouldn't be amiss in a "straight" crime novel. "Dead Easy for Dover" is a particularly exemplary specimen in that vein.

I'm glad you enjoyed this, Martin! She is definitely a fun writer. I believe that later in life she retired from crime writing and turned to biography, which reminds me of Antonia Fraser, another fine crime writer who gave up crime writing in favor of biographical and historical works.

Martin Edwards said...

Neer, good to hear from you.
Kacper, you too. I've never read Hon. Con - I know some people don't like that series, but I'm interested that you do. I'd like to know more about Joyce Porter,that's for sure.

Michael Walters said...

Fascinating, Martin - I was aware of Joyce Porter but had no idea she came from Marple. It must be something in our local water! Another minor coincidence is that the Radio 4 adaptions of some of her books were apparently written by Paul Mendelson who's just written his debut crime novel and is part of a panel I'm moderating at this year's Crimefest. It's a small world, this crime writing business!

Martin Edwards said...

Hiya Mike - sure is. Hope to see you in Bristol. It's been a long time, though Jane H was mentioning you to me the other day.

Clothes In Books said...

I read a lot of the Porter books back in the day, a lot of Dover and the Hon Con too, and something about an incompetent spy in the old USSR? Your commenter Kacper sums up very well an odd feature about her - the strangely serious denouments. Fascinated to hear about the Detective series, which I had never heard of. What a collection....

Martin Edwards said...

I've been deterred from reading Hon Con and Eddie Brown by some negative reviews,but perhaps I should give one or two of them a try. As for Detective, it really made a lasting impact on me. And had a great theme tune too!