Tangled Web UK Review November 2000
The Singing Dead by
hbk out September 00
Published by Headline
This story about a Merseyside private eye is reminiscent of Martin Edwards’ series about his solicitor-detective, but Ron Ellis’s gumshoe is quite a bit different. The writing is different too, as although the Singing Dead is an enjoyable yarn, the author does not quite have Martin Edward’s ability when it comes to tickling the ivories of the word-processor.
The story must be substantially autobiographical, as Ron Ellis is a property tycoon, runs a spot on local radio and is a pop music aficionado – just like Johnny Ace, his detecting hero. Johnny buys an old tape-recorder at an auction and finds a tape of John Lennon’s unpublished songs in the box, which starts a trail of mayhem and murder as various people try to get their hands on it. His new detective agency gets its first three jobs and it rather stretches the rules of coincidence that all three turn out to be interlinked. The book is used as a vehicle for imparting the author’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the Liverpool music scene – most of it went over my head, but for those who know the history of the Mersey Beat over the last thirty years, this must be an added treat.
This is a very straight-forward story – like Dylan Thomas, it begins at the beginning and goes on relentlessly to the end, with no flashbacks or diversions.
Written in the first person, as were his previous Johnny Ace yarns, it is eighty-percent dialogue – most of the remainder is a good description of Merseyside’s sleazier spots and endless details about lighting cigarettes, having cups of coffee
and other rather staccato accounts of humdrum events that have echoes of Raymond Chandler about them.
All in all, a good read, especially if you are into middle-aged pop musicians.
- Author of the highly acclaimed Crowner John series set in Medieval Devon)