Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Secret of Annexe 3

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of The Secret of Annexe 3 (St. Martin's, 1987).

This is very interesting. If I'm reading things correctly, The Secret of Annexe 3 was the only one of Colin Dexter's thirteen Inspector Morse novels that was not adapted for television. Noting this going in, I kept wondering what it was about the novel that prevented Central TV from commissioning a version of it. Perhaps they didn't want to suffer the trouble of filming in the snow for a festive New Year's Eve bash at an upscale hotel, or maybe the evidence that an unidentified man was killed after attending a costume party in blackface as a Rastafarian was felt to be just a little dodgy.

This book felt really strange to me, like I was reading the series out of order. The previous novel, Riddle of the Third Mile, was dense with cryptic clues and textual allusions, and the overall feel of the series to that point had been an increasing movement towards more cerebral detective fiction. This one, however, is an oddball throwback to 1930s plots and tropes, with a distinct Agatha Christie feel. Even the confusion about whose body has been discovered, with manufactured alibis and fancy dress, is something from the Poirot playbook.

I always enjoy the little glimpses at other cultures that you get reading books from other countries. This one's central location, a hotel, is just so strange and odd to me. All the business of writing for a room reservation and the prissiness of the management in confirming exactly who the guests are and what sort of hanky-panky that they think they'll be up to is just so amazingly alien to me. Even before I started using Travelocity, I don't know that I ran across any motels that were so uptight about this. Even odder, my son rented a DVD of Fawlty Towers around the time I was reading this. I can't recommend this book very highly, but I certainly don't recommend that anybody read it with Basil Fawlty in mind.

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