Carole Tyrrell worked in the theatre for nearly 10 years and was always fascinating by the way death and the supernatural formed many of the greatest and most enduring works. She has read crime fiction for many years and enjoys the broad range of the genre.
Comedy crime can be very similar to romantic comedy – neither one genre or the other – and so can become an uneasy mixture of the two and ultimately unsatisfying.
Revenge of the Red Square falls into the comedy crime category in which Hamish Macbeth sits but not quite so comfortably. In some ways it’s a curious book in that it reads almost as if it began its life as a sitcom script and then became a book instead.
It features Hymie Goldman, the defective detective from the Penny Brothers previous book, The Golden Pig in which he became embroiled with Chinese Triads and his sidekick Mike Murphy and Hymie’s nemesis Inspector Decca and Sgt Terse.
It begins with the Amazing Harvey, an alleged children’s entertainer and magician, being faced with 14 bored and cynical 8 year olds at a birthday party and waiting for his assistant, the great Boltini. Nothing goes to plan, especially the grand finale goldfish and mallet trick, and Harvey and Boltini are forced to beat a hasty retreat. Meanwhile, Hymie and Mike are waiting for a new case to find them as are Decca and Terse. None of them have long to wait as Hymie’s hired to find the vanished Harvey by an irate mother from the party but he’s not the only one hot on the conjuror’s trail……someone else is picking off other faded practitioners of the magician’s wand and it’s not Simon Cowell.
After the unexpected and bloody demise of the Marvellous Marvin, Decca’s Chief puts him on the case whilst expressing his opinion on the magic fraternity as ‘Hiding rabbits for a living, very strange.’ And before long they’re all caught between two opposing fraternities; the Red Square and the Magic Triangle and it won’t end happily. Even worse, who’s got the Quark bomb and what will it do to the world?
I viewed the authors website on which one celebrity compared them to Spike Milligan. I wouldn’t go that far but there were plot elements that reminded me of Round the Horne and the Carry On films with buxom secretaries and glamorous assistants. It’s not a gentle humour like Hamish Macbeth and I did admire the Brothers for sustaining a high and inventive level of humour throughout the book. However, this was also their undoing as characters are so busy constantly exchanging wise cracks and one liners that they don’t actually do that much action-wise which means pages of dialogue and the action grinding to a halt. The scenes featuring the magicians in inept action were the most successful and I warmed to the David Lynchian dwarves. The pace didn’t flag but I did at the relentless wisecracking and I felt that if this had been reined in a little and more action introduced it would have been a more successful book. Less can often be more. We know you can be funny, now can we please move things along?
I also found that Revenge of the Red Square possessed some curiously old-fashioned elements ; referring to black people as coloured and mentioning Victor Kiam for example and the casual introduction of Teddy Boys into the action who then vanished almost immediately. When did you last see a Teddy Boy let alone a gang of them on the loose? Some jokes are very laboured i.e. the Tourette’s sufferer and policemen’s balls – I’m sure you can make this one up for yourself.
But I was intrigued by the Red Square organisation and felt that this should have been a major plot element and more made of the Magic Triangle instead of leaving them in the background s almost asides. At times the plot seemed to slip out of the authors control and lie gasping for breath before the tide of the next wisecracks came along and rescued it. In fact, towards the end, I did feel that I’d had enough as the relentless humour wore me down. But I thought that this would have made a wonderful radio sitcom and wondered if this is where Hymie at al really belong.
Ultimately, Revenge of the Red Square, didn’t really work for me but it’s not that the Penny Brothers are untalented – far from it – but they need to be more in control of their material and decide exactly what kind of book they are writing.