December 24th, 2015


Murder Most Downtonish

"I feel as if I've read no fiction for months," I told my mother yesterday. "Can you recommend a good detective story - where the detective isn't too tortured, alcoholic or nihilistic?" She suggested P. D. James's The Lighthouse, which I thought a good choice, having enjoyed some of the Dalglish mysteries on television back in the day, though I've never read the books. It's set on a small island in the Bristol Channel, too, and having written a book with that setting myself I naturally warm to it on that account.

I'm about 30 pages in so far, and while it's not badly written I've been surprised to find "miniscule", a woman called Sydney referred to as having "an ambivalent forename", and a few similar minor but irksome errors. The main problem, though, is that while we've spent a lot of time in the heads of various middle-class people, the working-class ones are only ever seen from the outside, and it's beginning to grate. Admittedly there's a way to go and this could all change, but I can't help but remember that P. D. James sat on the Tory benches in the House of Lords, just like Julian Fellowes, and this does have a bit of a Downton vibe to it.

Carping aside, though, it sent me to dig out one of my favourite passages from the The Making of the Goodies' Disaster Movie (1977), which includes a page from Graham Greene's supposed screenplay, At It Again...

137: Interior. Krafchik's Villa. Day.

A man enters from the patio through the half-open French window. It is BATTERSBY. He moves carefully across the cluttered living room, nervous, alert. BATTERSBY is a man of medium height (5'9" or 5'10") and of indeterminate age. He could be anything from 25 to 37. In fact he is 38, and meticulously careful of his appearance. His neatly cut hair is brushed in the city style, and it is even possible that the bronzed highlights in the distinguished grey are the result of skilful tinting. Despite the subtropical humidity his skin is smooth and dry. His eyes are a deep limpid brown, the lashes obviously professionally trimmed. He moves with a slight limp, made more obvious by the involuntary flinching of his knees as he catches sight of a print of Valpolicella's Madonna and Infant over the fireplace, while at the same time the defensive tightening of the three wrinkles at the corner of each eye pronounces his later rejection of the Faith. His clothes are smart, crisp, well-chosen, beautifully cut, and mauve. When he speaks, BATTERSBY's voice retains a hint of an Irish lilt, an accent assimilated long since in the days of his close association with the Jesuit Fathers who educated him. He looks round the room and clears his throat.


A shot rings out and BATTERSBY falls dead.

Enter DOBBS, an ordinary sort of bloke.

DOBBS: Coo-er! Well here's a rum go, and no mistake.

The Goodies were a bit hit and miss, but this was right on the money. Anyway, so far reading P. D. James is a bit like that.

In other news, would you like to hear the bells of Romsey Abbey? You would? Here you go, then.