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Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Book review - It couldn't matter less

This is Peter Cheyney’s fourth outing for his character Slim Callaghan (1941) and it takes place in London in that year, during the Blitz.

In his day (1936-1948), Cheyney was a very popular author, averaging two books a year, and achieved sales of over a million copies. You don’t read them for their literary style; even so, it’s interesting and even instructive to read a few of his books if you’re a student of private eye novels. And any notion of political correctness should be left at the door.

Cheyney’s most famous character creation was Lemmy Caution (who appeared in ten books).

Slim Callaghan is sort of an English-American private eye, with a penchant for classy dames, rye whiskey and many cigarettes.  He has a sidekick, Nikolls who is American and talks the jargon, phonetically, very much in the manner of Simon Templar’s pal, Hoppy Uniatz.

Nikolls is forever relating his misadventures with dames in the States.

Surprisingly, this time around Slim’s client doesn’t sashay into his office. His friend Detective Inspector George Herbert Porteous Gringall of Scotland Yard points Slim in the direction of a torch singer, Varette, who is anxious to locate her amour, Lionel Wilbery.

Slim’s investigations take him to Lionel’s sister Leonore. Their meeting suggests the title of the novel, too. Leonore said suddenly, “Did you ever hear the story of the man that criticised a girl’s figure?” Slim said he had not. She said: “It couldn’t matter less. She just didn’t hold it against him.” (p53)

While trying to find the elusive Lionel, Slim encounters an obnoxious Cuban, a Hungarian couple up to no good, and an assortment of shady characters.

It suffers from the style it’s written in, but if you can get past that, you’ll enjoy the tale, complete with its wit, amusing scenes, though there was too much alcohol and far too many cigarette smoking for this to be a healthy endeavour.

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