Sunday, April 06, 2014

Ruth Dudley Edwards. Carnage on the Committee (2004)

     Ruth Dudley Edwards. Carnage on the Committee (2004) Hermione Babcock, the chair of a literary prize committee dies of ricin poisoning, which is an excuse for Georgie Prothero and Robert Amiss to arrange the appointment of Jack Troutbeck, well known curmudgeon and Mistress of St Martha’s at Cambridge, for the post. Three more members of the committee are offed before the murderer confesses, via letter, mailed on his way out of the country into his private crook-protection scheme.
     The plot is rather thin, but Edwards is really more interested in satirising the literary prize racket and all that goes with it than with concocting a proper police procedural. The book may be a roman a clef, but I wasn’t interested enough to pursue the necessary research. It’s a funny and for the most part well-aimed satire on the pseudo-intelligentsia and dimwit academics and other infestations of civilised society. See, I approve of Edwards’ targeting these types, and so I was amused enough to keep reading.
     The resolution is the butler ex machina ploy, which suggests that Edwards was also needling the crime genre. Or else she just ran out of ideas, and decided to end the story while she was ahead. Edwards narrates the novel almost entirely in dialogue, which allows for lots of bon and not-so-bon mots, as well as the kind revelations that make us feel we know the characters and their relationships better than we actually do. Well done, but not quite as well done as the cover blurb promises. It says “Devilishly funny...  beautifully written satire”. I wouldn’t go that far, but I still rate it above average. Found on the library’s discard shelf at $1, and worth it. **½

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