Carnage on the Committee
By Ruth Dudley Edwards
Hard Cover from Poisoned Pen Press
219 pages, released in 2004
Satirical, funny, clever, ingenious, damn good. This is easily one of the best novels of the year. In Britain, inventor of the stiff upper lip, the committee of the Knapper-Wharburton literary prize are meeting to devise first, the short list of nominees, and then, the winner of this prestigious annual award.
So far so good. But then the chair of the committee dies, under the proverbial suspicious circumstances. All right then, a literary mystery, right? So what if the reaction of one of the committee, on page one, mind you seems a bit over the top for a mystery. Then, we discover that one of the members of the diminished committee is named Robert Amiss. A bit suspicious that. Other members of the committee, all deemed unsuitable to lead the committee back to its task, have quite ordinary names, and they also possess some unusual foibles and attitudes. Not Mr. Amiss.
He is immediately tasked to find a new chair. Whom does he choose? None other than the redoubtable Baroness Ida Trout, famed literary cognoscenti, fondly called “Jack” by her intimates. A woman readers of earlier Edwards novels will recognize immediately. Jack Trout is one of the most formidable, unusual, self-centered and flamboyant characters ever to erupt from the pages of crime fiction.
With great élan, understandable autocratic direction, and clever underhanded manipulation she and co-conspirator Amiss endeavor to get the work of the committee done in handy fashion. In the process the dynamic pair thwart a killer who is likely to strike again at any moment and manage to allow their creator to poke at every cherished shibboleth and icon of the literary and mystery world. And woe to those who read this story and say to themselves, well, that’s just the British world, you know.
Edwards slings arrows of deflation at literary pretensions, at awards, at awards ceremonies, at authors, at conventions, at publishers and agents; and yes, at readers and fans. Almost nothing and no one is safe from her cudgels. Rude, this author is, and delightfully so. Politically incorrect, even. Honest and wonderfully funny. And what’s more, she throws in a carefully crafted, honest, mystery that is more than likely to keep you guessing to the very end. Risible, laugh-out-loud entertaining and so right on it smarts.
Congratulations to Poisoned Pen for bringing us this delicious, funny, engaging novel. And kudos to Ruth Dudley Edwards for an excellent mystery and a terrific story.