Thursday, April 17, 2014

John Wainwright: four crime novels

As I mentioned earlier, I read four novels by British writer John Wainwright to be mentioned in my forth-coming book on British crime paperbackers. I've been at it for over ten years and I thought it would finally come out next Summer, but we'll have to see about that, as I still have loads of work to do. But now John Wainwright has finally been done with.

Wainwright is best known - if known at all today - for his police procedurals. He wrote some dozens of them saying he got his inspiration from Ed McBain and his 87th Precinct series and that clearly shows. The settings are realistic and Wainwright shows some critical insight into the society he writes about. There are lots of characters, all colourful. The police are a mixed bunch, some of them are almost crooks themselves, taking law into their own hands, some of them just look on from the side and realize there's no use getting mixed with their colleagues' doings. The actual crooks are very much crooks: sleazy low-life scum. This is one of the weakest things in Wainwright's police novels. He shows real contempt when he writes about the lower class people and their inhabitats. In Wainwright's novels there's also lots of dialogue. One can imagine being in a police station amidst all the nervous talk and shouting.

I read The Big Tickle (1969; Kurja päivä kuolla in Finnish) and Talent for Murder (1967; Huhtikuun murhat in Finnish) and liked the latter more, even though the former is more clearly set in the reality of the streets. The novel suffers from bad Finnish translation though.

Wainwright also wrote some middle-class tragedies. I read two of them, The Distaff Factor (1982; Tuomion jälkeen in Finnish) and Cul-de-sac (1984; Umpikuja in Finnish). Georges Simenon spoke highly of the latter, and it is indeed the better of the two in its depiction of a sad marriage that ends in the death of the wife. It's already declared an accident, when an eye-witness comes forward saying it was a murder, done by the woman's husband. Cul-de-sac is a dense book with a pleasing climax. I hope I'm not giving anything away saying Wainwright uses the same technique that made Gillian Flynn famous with her Gone Girl.

The Distaff Factor starts with a promising idea: the husband of a middle-class woman is declared guilty of maiming and killing three prostitutes. This one also has a twist in the middle and yet another in the end, but I wasn't entirely satisfied. The book drags somewhat in the middle and the end climax is both misogynistic and somewhat implausible. Yet it also shows Wainwright could really write tragedy.

Wainwright wasn't a paperbacker in his native land, but his books came out in paperback here in Finland, that's why I'm including him in my book.

2 comments:

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting. It's a shame that Wainwright has been so quickly forgotten. An often intriguing writer, perhaps too prolific for his own good. I met him not long before he died, and the occasion still sticks out in my memory.

Juri Nummelin said...

Isn't it so that he died in 1995, but there were no obits and his death was noted only years later?