Gary Thorn is in the middle of investigating a serious criminal case in south London involving police corruption, domestic violence, possibly even murder, when he stops on the street to talk to a passing squirrel. He tells the squirrel what he intends to do next, and the creature that Gary advocates in the belly tries to talk him out of it. “I would think a little more deeply about that decision than you obviously have,” it says.
That’s how the comedian is Bob Mortimer writes a crime story: with squirrel interludes, recurring duck gags and a private eye with a penchant for news stockings. The latter is an acquaintance of Gary’s who runs into him one night in the pub and leaves behind a USB stick in the shape of a cob and is later reported dead under suspicious circumstances. That same night, Gary is also dumped by a mysterious young woman with a button nose and heavy bangs, whom he tries to flirt with over steak and chips.
Gary is not a real detective. He is a shy legal assistant in a Peckham solicitor’s office who panics at the first sign of danger and only continues the case because he fancies the mysterious degenerate woman who turns out to be involved.
Mortimer, himself a shy Peckham lawyer before becoming a comedian, proves quite adept at writing crime fiction: the plot has a familiar noirish shape, complete with potential femme fatale, but there are enough surprises and twists to keep it rattling .
But it’s the details that really set this book apart. Off the wall doesn’t quite cover it. What other fictional Boy Scout would write “big bananas” in small letters on an architrave in his office to cheer himself up at work? Or assign the names Zak Briefcase and Long Parsnips to a couple of dogs he passes on the street? Fans of Mortimer’s surreal teeth Would I lie for you?or his internet sketch show Train guy, will not be disappointed. Nor crime fans, if only they can get over the talking squirrels.