The Players and the Game, by Julian Symons

Random pick from the library. A serial killer who thinks he's Dracula is enticing young girls to meetings via a contact magazine and then abducting them with the help of a woman. Suspicion falls on Paul Vane, an ineffectual HR person who's previously been blackmailed after fooling around with under-age girls.

I'd never heard of Julian Symons, and was a bit put off by the fact that the book reading is prefaced by a description of what an influential writer he was, and how he'd won all sorts of awards: if this guy is so good, why have I never heard of him, and why do you need to convince me that I want to read the book? And the start of the book wasn't promising: it was part of the killer's journal, of which extracts appear as the book carries on. The journal is written in a self-aggrandizing style, full of airy pronouncements on the meaning of life etc.. It put me in mind of the TV series "Tales of the Unexpected" (the book was written in 1972).

But once it started to get going, it was actually pretty good. Apart from the journal sections, it's written in the third person, and you don't get to know who the killer is until the end. Rather like The Mermaids Singing, which I kept being reminded of, and I wonder whether perhaps the guff in the intro about Symons being influential was right: I could imagine that this style of book, while not seeming particularly original now, was something quite new when it came out.

While the level of gore was not on a par with what you might see today, the book was nevertheless more explicit about the crimes than I'd expected: not that this was gratuitous or overdone (which I thought the Mermaids Singing was), but a bit of a surprise for a 35-year old book. One way in which I did think it showed its age was in the way they talked about Paul Vane, who'd interfered with girls as young as twelve. These days I think he'd be in serious trouble, but in the book he just gets a gentle admonition from the police when they find out, and his employer tries to be sympathetic. Oh, and the policemen accept drinks when they go visiting. I wonder when "Not while I'm on duty" came in.

So a surprisingly good read, and I'll keep an eye out for more. I think this one is part of a series about the same policeman (Harper).

Completed : 01-Aug-2006 (audiobook)

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