I have been reading Aird for years and years now –
the odd book here and there, nothing systematic.
I know I have commented on her here before; she certainly
falls into that category of prolific unknowns which I
have been considering recently. But it is worth re-iterating the
facts of her extraordinary career.

Her real name is
Kinn Hamilton MacIntosh and she was born in
Huddersfield in 1930. Her first mystery featuring
Inspector Sloan was published in 1966 and since that
date another 19 Sloan books have followed with the
21st due out this September. There is also one stand-alone –
a Most Contagious Game – which was republished by
the Rue Morgue Press recently. An invaluable article
about Aird can be found at the Rue Morgue site at…

http://www.ruemorguepress.com/authors/aird.html

which includes the comment by Pearl Aldrich that
the “voice of the omniscient author is heard continuously,
commenting, explaining, digressing, joking,
adding extraneous information, and explaining English ways and attitudes.”
Anyone familiar with Aird will recognise this description.

Anyway I decided to go back and approach her work
methodically starting with The Religious Body her first book,
published as I said in 1966. Here is the regular cast – Inspector
Sloan, Superintendent Leeyes, DC Crosby; their personalities
are already intact – Sloan wry, resigned, observant, fascinated
with language; Leeyes absurd, pompous, already engaged
on his endless series of evening classes; Crosby – dim as they
come. Sloan is already talking about his pension. Which he
is doing in the same way in 2006! When we talk about
fictional detectives not ageing Aird’s cast must hold some
sort of special record!
We can also see the basic format of the books well established –
a murder (or two) are committed, usually in some special institution
(in this case a nunnery), there is a reasonably closed cast of
suspects and Sloan must figure out whodunit. Aird’s own
wonderfully to the point quotation at the beginning sums it
up…

‘What I want to know is:
One – who is the criminal?
Two – how did he (or she) do it?’

Ernest the policeman, in The Toytown Mystery
by S.G Hulme Beaman.

It will be observed that in terms of character development
there is absolutely nothing to be gained in reading Aird in
series order – you can pick up a book from the beginning,
middle or end of her career and Sloan and co will be pretty
much the same.

However I was interested to see to what extent Aird’s style
and touch where born fully-fledged as it were. The answer
is, to some extent. The playing with language, phrases, adages
is there but not to the same extent, nor perhaps with the
same delicacy and adroitness which is displayed as
she developed her powers. An Aird should be as a light
a souffle and this is perhaps in places a little heavy
(I am using a cooking metaphor which I do not really
understand as I have no idea what a souffle is – but I
think they are judged according to lightness :)). This is not
to say that it is not a good book, just that Aird took a little
time to fully develop her own highly idiosyncratic voice
(it might be that if you disliked this voice you would find
this book more to your taste).

Anyway I intend to continue to read my way through
the series in, roughly, publication order so I will be
better placed how that voice develops.

Aird’s is a remarkable achievement and this a remarkable
series. If I were awarding the Dagger for Lifetime Achievement
I think Aird would be near the top of my list (given those who
have already received it).

(June 2007)

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