Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Chelsea Murders - Lionel Davidson

First published 1978; cover shown is the 1983 Penguin Books (UK) paperback. Cover photo shows a mask designed by Jenny Tate. 237 pages.

In her black slip and her fluffy mules, Grooters was ironing a skirt.

Less than four pages after this opening line, the majority of Grooters is lying on the floor of her boarding house room: her head is in the hand basin. The Chelsea Maniac has struck again.

In 1970s London, a small group of art students are making a slasher film. Artie, a giant black man with a huge Afro, is researching the art of bloody murder, while Steve, a skinny guy working in a denim clothing store and Frank, a giant white man with interesting sexual tastes, are doing their best to secure ongoing funding while getting wasted in their bedsits.

When a series of seemingly pointless crimes begin occurring in Chelsea - a dead man wrapped around a lamp post, an elderly woman raped and murdered, a local barmaid found strangled in the river - Mary Mooney, a 30 year old journalist, begins to realise that a serial killer is on a rampage.

Also realising this is the police, headed by Detective Chief Superintendent Warton. A huge force is assembled, a complex system of index cards detailing every clue is created, and as the weeks pass and the murders continue Warton realises he is sinking fast. And then a few lines of a classic poem arrives at the station, followed by a murder. The next week another poem arrives, again followed by a murder. While Warton and his minions are collecting clues which all point to Artie, Steve or Frank, so is Mary Mooney.

This very entertaining crime novel is helped along by its always-interesting descriptive sections of the seedy parts of London. Humorous, sordid, baffling and bizarre, this was a much better book than I imagined it would be.

No comments: