Raymond Flynn: The Body Beautiful (1998 5th
book in Eddathorpe series).

Eddathorpe is being plagued by a stalker and a
Peeping Tom and DCI Robert Graham is under
pressure to do something about them. That pressure
increases dramatically when one of those being stalked
is found murdered. Graham must contend not only with
a plethora of suspects, but also deal with a poison-pen
letter writer who’s missives are aimed at senior local
policemen, including Graham himself, and show an
alarming degree of inside information.

This book (and I think I read another in the Eddathorpe
series a longish time ago which I seem to recall displayed
the same characteristics) is decidedly quirky. I know that is
an over-used adjective but it does apply here.

There are a whole load of negatives to start with. The characterisation
is dull and there are few too many characters who soon blur in the
reader’s mind. The prose is sloppy and badly-composed, so that it
is often hard to ascertain exactly what Flynn is saying, or in dialogue
passages, who is speaking. The sociological observation is stereotyped
and generally hackneyed. The plotting is nothing out of the ordinary –
and in this case one minor sub-plot has been lifted (I kid you not) straight
from the movie Carry on Girls – a film which looked pretty dated on its
release in 1973!

Which taken together would make a fairly damning incitement and
a reason to avoid this book like the plague. But there are two
redeeming features which instead lift it into the realms of the individual
and the quirky.

The lesser is Flynn’s location writing. Although his descriptive powers are
severely limited he nevertheless manages somehow to convey a strong
impression of the sheer seediness, the down-at-heel quality of a
Lincolnshire holiday resort. I have never been to any of these resorts (Skegness and Mablethorpe are obvious candidates) but Flynn manages to imbue Eddathorpe with a certain louche charm. In this the fact that it feels like the 1950’s only adds to the impression and this, of course, is true of some English resorts which seem stuck in a peculiar time-warp.

But the greater individuality is given by Flynn’s portrait of the police.
Now Flynn had 26 years as a policeman – in uniform, in CID and in
Fraud – so one presumes he knows of what he speaks. I am generally
highly suspicious of books by ex-coppers – they tend to accomplish the feat
of being both whiny (we’re misunderstood) and violently macho
simultaneously.
Flynn avoids all of this. He neither glamourises (buys into the ‘special’
myth) nor demonsises. His police force instead is a sort of badly-run company.Everyone is engaged in shifting responsibility onto someone else, covering their backs, playing office politics and so on. This does not mean they are ‘bad’ – they just act like managers in any large organisation. It is
true that this seems to mean that often not much work gets done. But much of the interest of the book lies in seeing how Graham can cope with his various superiors (and he seems to have at least three immediate ones), peers and subordinates. Somehow all this had a real ring of truth for me.

I don’t think its surprising that Flynn is something of a minor name (and
that might be being generous). Apart from the many literary weaknesses his
portrait of the police is one that satisfy neither those who look for heroic
glamorisation, nor those who look for corruption/bent coppers. But in
the spectrum of police procedurals Flynn actually gives a whole new –
and very quirky – meaning to the idea of procedure. It is probably no
accident that one clue in this book is the watermark on a piece of
photo-copying paper!

I like to celebrate the individual and while it would be impossible to argue
that Flynn is a good mystery writer he is certainly individual – and so
it is worth trying at least one of the Eddathorpe series.

(March 2008)

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