Now there is this...
The Great Field lies verdant fresh within the crook of a river that bends around it. On three sides lie water with the other open to a great wilderness that stretches away in the far distance. A few tents reside upon the field when new settlers arrive bearing odd cultures, offering different ways of living that are unlike those of the first arrivals. The newcomers are organised; precise in their habits with methods that the others find exasperating. There then comes the offer of free milk pudding as by way of reconciliation. It is an offer hard to refuse but refuse it the older settlers do – all bar one.
‘The Field of the Cloth of Gold’ is a fable, one that, xenophobically perhaps, views migration as the clash of differing cultures in a world rife with fear of change, of alteration from ways long established.
We meet the unnamed narrator, (an oft-used ploy of Mill’s), who introduces us to an array of characters that populate the tale with odd or wondrous names.
Mills genius is in the neat, precise and efficient way he writes his narrative. There are no clever punctuation marks, no convoluted syntax, just pure, unadulterated English. But it is the manner in which he employs prosaic subject matter for inspiration and mixing with it a dry humour that captures the imagination. The dialogue too is without embellishment. The language is as earthy as one would expect given the coarseness of his working men. The story itself is a little disturbing with implications both subtle and sinister.
Mill’s art is much like his day job, (bus driver) a deceptively difficult thing made to look comparatively easy by the effortless manner in which he carries out his task. The direct style of prose acts as a platform for deadpan comic delivery, which is made all the funnier as the style becomes the foil for the book’s humour. The characters’ lives are often depicted as mundane, but it is this apparent tedium that gives leverage to the comic interludes. As they say up north, ‘there is nowt as queer as folk’ and in Magnus Mills case this is patently so.
With this, his eighth novel, Mills has set his target to the sun and, unlike the chap who flew too close, the writer seems impervious to the heat. His literary wings are not of wax and feathers but of a fancy sewn into a literary fabric that is accessible and fun; very droll, very English, it is like a dry built stonewall resolutely defying the fads of fashion yet still utterly engaging.
This review first appeared on the New London Writers site - http://newlondonwriters.com/2015/06/16/the-field-of-the-cloth-of-gold-by-magnus-mills/
With utter disregard for the modern trend to feature the grim realism of Northern European cop thriller type books such as Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo which lead the field of the contemporary genre, Fred Vargas displays a wanton way with stories that hook, bend the rules mischievously and then trundle along at their pace, in their own way that is both stylish, entertaining and makes for a thoroughly good read. Characters are rich, warped, French and yet totally believable. Not one of them has the leaden deliberateness of so many crime fiction books. There are no attempts at subterfuge, no pretense that police work is anything but monotonous, routine legwork and a singular lack of serial killers of pedestrian forensic shtick.
This novel was originally published in France in 1996. It was then published in hardback last year, 2014. This paperback version was spotted when browsing round Waterstones. It was published this year. This is the second of the Three Evangelists novels and is as impossible a wayward read as you could wish to find.
When Louis, or Ludwig, Kehlweiler, spots a bone found on the pavement in Paris having first been digested by a dog, thankfully it rained first melting excrement to reveal the bone as being that from the toe of a woman. It is a bone that takes Kehlweiler from his local police station to a small Breton fishing village in Port Nicholas. The search is made with the help of Marc, Mathias and even a brief visit from Lucien.
I know of no other author who writes crime fiction quite like Fred Vargas. She avoids the manufactured stereotypes so often found in hard-boiled, grim realism fiction - the flawed detective who has a drinking problem, a failed marriage, an obsessive nature, smokes a lot and listens to certain styles of music. Instead, we have what can only be described as a solid world, vigorous yet whimsical but also funny
Imagine if you can a wonky old organ playing a fractured waltz. The sound is jerky, offbeat and rather of another age or another place entirely. Better still, think of looking through a window where the glass is misted and what you view is all odd tones and colours and yet still of this world. This is the world Fred Vargas (Frédérique Audoin-Rouzeau) lays before you. It is as quirky as it is utterly brilliant.
These are quirky stories, sometimes surreal, always fantastic to read. Are they better than the standard fare of crime fiction? No, just different.
Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers.