ROBERT BARNARD Political Suicide

ROBERT BARNARD – Political Suicide. Collins Crime Club, UK, hardcover, 1986. Scribner’s, US, hardcover, 1986. Reprinted several times, including Dell, US, paperback, August 1987; Corgi, UK, paperback, 1988.

   I don’t know about you, but the cover just to the right (the Corgi reprint) is one of the ugliest I’ve ever seen on a paperback. It’s not just that it’s in black and white, or that’s incompetently done (I’m not saying that, exactly), but it makes me feel kind of creepy every time I look at it. (And how many covers have you seen rendered in black and white recently?)

   It’s not that the book it adorns is not a noir novel, for maybe it is. What Political Suicide is, is a novel about politics, and politicians, British style, and how more downbeat and depressing can a book be than to be about politics and politicians, no matter the country of origin?

ROBERT BARNARD Political Suicide

   Barnard takes the humorous approach, though. His dry wit skewers the profession at every turn, both its pretenses and its pretensions. (No, they are not the same.) But here is the problem, as I see it. Making fun of politicians and their ilk is far too easy. It is as much fun for the reader as I am sure it was for the author, but not for as long, I have a feeling, speaking for myself, of course.

   Setting off an election is the presumed suicide of the previous MP of Bootham East, his body fished out of the Thames. The Prime Minister sees no need for an investigation, but Scotland Yard is suspicious.

   Sent off to Bootham East, a dismal backwater area of England, is Superintendent Sutcliffe, who is about to retire (only several weeks to go) and he has some vacation time coming.

   His investigation is therefore low key and largely unofficial, but he has a keen sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. But another problem with this detective novel, though – as a detective novel – is that it’s a little too low key.

ROBERT BARNARD Political Suicide

   The investigation goes along at a pace that’s slow to begin with, and then manages to go even slower. The antics of the professional politicians — the three primary ones vying for the seat — get a lot more coverage than the sleuthing does. And as a result, our attention (as detective story fans) begins to flag, and we may not be as prepared for the ending when it comes, even though we’ve been keeping a good eye open for the number of pages left.

   Speaking for myself, of course. If you are British, you may become more involved with the politics and the politicians (a sorry lot, all), and chances are high that you will have a far better time with this one than I did.

   Off on another note, one that I have found strange, Supt. Sutcliffe had a second recorded case: A Scandal in Belgravia (1991), but he may be a participant only in retirement – or in a decidedly minor role. None of the online reviews of the book mention him. If you’ve read that book, can you confirm that he’s in it?