The shooting of an acerbic reviewer during the premiere of a play at the Theatre Royal opens endless avenues of investigation for the incompetents of the Brighton Constabulary in this effervescent farce.
Truss transplants the quirky, clever wit that drove her nonfiction best-seller, Eats, Shoots & Leaves, to fiction in this adaptation of a radio show starring Brighton, England, police officers Steine, Brunswick, and Twitten and featuring assorted oddballs on both sides of the law. Newbie Twitten, who’s thought to be too smart for his own good, hopes his career is on the upswing when he happens to be seated beside a malodorous, mean theater critic just as the man is killed. Inspector Steine believes the crime is related to a massacre in Brighton years before, and the ensuing investigation takes delightful twists and turns that reveal sordid secrets and long-ago crimes underlying the resort town’s jolly character. It is, at times, difficult to keep track of the numerous characters involved in this post-WWII drama, but a close reading brings rewards. Truss’ language, unsurprisingly, sparkles, and her portrayal of class and its exasperating effect on even the British underworld is memorable. Readers of Agatha Christie are a natural audience for this study in peculiarity.
In the 1950s, Brighton, England, was bucolic and lovely—if you disregard the hooligans, Teddy Boys and other criminal mischief- makers lurking about ... This farcical tale is packed with interwoven plotlines, clues strewn about like confetti and a comically oblivious chief inspector. It reads like a stage comedy, and in fact Truss has written four seasons’ worth of Inspector Steine dramas for BBC Radio. There are no dark and stormy nights here, just gorgeous seaside views marred by occasional corpses. The ’60s are coming, but for now, women are still largely ignored; this turns out to be its own kind of liberation, since who would suspect them? Sharp and witty, A Shot in the Dark is a good time.
For the author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves to call a crime novel A Shot in the Dark does seem a bit of a hostage to fortune. The moment a panda shows up, it’s going to be bish bash bosh, case closed. Disappointingly — or prudently — these pages don’t contain a panda; but they do contain a theatre critic with terrible BO, a murderously angry Punch-and-Judy man, a charlady with an interesting hinterland, a phrenologist with an interesting hinterland, a bar-bending music-hall strongwoman with an interesting hinterland, a teenage dollybird with no hinterland whatsoever, and a number of more or less incompetent police officers ... This is amiable enough stuff, and in the closing pages rather ingeniously plotted. But the reader ought to be warned that this is the sort of unceasingly jocular novel where Italian mothers say things like 'Those Casino Boys done this to my Frankie!'...A decent indicator of whether you will mostly chuckle or mostly sigh at A Shot in the Dark will be the extent to which you find saveloys intrinsically funny. A third category of reader, mind you, will simply be wondering whether the comma after 'missing' should have been positioned after 'and'; but those people are pedants and we don’t want to pander to them.