Book covers


Arion, George: Attack In The Library.
ProFusion Crime
. £ 7.99.

Ed McBain, creator of the 87th Precinct, said a detective story should begin with a murder and a dead body. McBain described his efforts self-effacingly. He was a craftsman and not an artist. Raymond Chandler took himself more seriously. In his 1950 essay ‘The Simple Art of Murder’ he insisted that, if the crime novel was to have a relevant future, the body had to be taken out of the drawing room. Drawing room or library, it amounts to the same thing. Both rooms are found in the home of a gentleman. Real murders exist on the street or in more modest homes, said Chandler. The introduction to ‘Attack In The Library’ explains that the title is ironical and that this book by George Arion is not a typical Golden Age detective story. The title, though, implies more than irony because behind the satire there are plenty of references in the plot to classical whodunnits. It would not be fair to reveal too much of what happens but the brilliant denouement should appeal to not only those who wish to hear totalitarianism condemned but also crime fiction traditionalists. Arion combines both ambitions fabulously and any reader should appreciate an ending that reveals how radical purpose can be combined with a tribute to a form and genre much more conservative. If the conclusion makes the book an essential read, what precedes it is anything but dull. The tale swerves constantly and confidently between thriller and social satire. At times it reminded me of ‘A Confederacy Of Dunces’, the great American comic novel by John Kennedy O’Tool. This is not faint praise because ‘Dunces’ is a masterpiece The hero is perhaps not as absurd as the great Ignatius J Reilly, imagine also the victim in ‘DOA’, but this is because the plot requires him to solve the mystery. Andre Mladin, the Romanian journalist who discovers the dead body in his library, spends the novel trying to understand who is doing what to him. This could easily become a too serious account of a grievance but Mladin has a sarcastic and self-critical wit that makes him irresistible. The similes are numerous and wild and inevitably a couple miss the mark but any book that quotes Newton’s Third Law is alright by me. The plot is a perfect fit as a metaphor for how totalitarianism makes lives bewildering but because it is a metaphor it also works as a more general criticism of any society where hierarchies are ruined by overrated and indulged elites. This is why the book reminded me of ‘A Confederacy Of Dunces’ and other satires. This may be insensitive to Romanians who feel that the book needs to exist primarily as a condemnation of what went wrong in Romania but if the rest of us read it and also look at our own society more critically then that has to be okay. Not just the Romanians need to be on their guard in the future. Howard Jackson.