Sunday, 17 June 2012

Too Much of Water - Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton (1900-1974) was the older brother and biographer of the much better known Patrick (Rope, Gaslight, Hangover Square etc).  Bruce was a prolific writer of crime thrillers and a long-serving educationalist in Barbados (for which he was honoured in 1964).  Frankly, I'd never heard of him and was attracted to this book by its eye-popping cover - but I know of him now and definitely want to get to know more of his work.

Too Much Water is set aboard a small passenger ship bound for the West Indies.  Hamilton is very good at portraying his world - this is 1957-8 and therefore includes passing mention of Suez - so when he depicts a distinguished black teacher and a white planter you can be sure that the way he sees them is the way they were regarded in their world by their contemporaries.

Other facets of Hamilton's writing are more startling - a pivotal character is called Rottentosser (yes, Rottentosser!) and there is a snippet of dialogue to assure doubters that it is indeed pronounced Rottentosser.  The protagonist, Edgar Cantrell, is a middle-ranking conductor of classical music and his friend (but not his Watson) is a woman-chasing counter-tenor.

The multiple murders seem random.  Obviously they aren't, but I didn't figure out who did it or why before Cantrell told me, and there was a cunning twist or two even after the killer stood revealed.  The plotting is masterly, the writing tone light but not inappropriately facetious.  Absolutely a forgotten classic of its genre.

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