Tuesday, 26 December 2006

Lesley Grant-Adamson, Guilty Knowledge (Faber, 1986)

Trinity Rare Books is a wonderful second-hand and antique bookshop in Carrick-on-Shannon (that's in Co. Letirim, in the northwest of Ireland, for my international readers) and I paid a visit on Saturday to wish Nick and Joanna festive greetings. They have good stock in the shop, especially Irish literature and local material. There are some nice early McGaherns and you often see lovely Kavanaghs and Yeats there. There's even an early Ulysses, though I don't think that's for sale. I picked up a couple of nice things, including Arsenio Frugoni, Incontri nel Medioevo (Bologna: il Mulino, 1979), and a copy of Carlo Levi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, as well as the book I review below. The Frugoni is a collection of previously published articles, some of which are very famous, such as his very interesting work on circumstances surrounding Boniface VIII's jubilee year of 1300 (the year in which Dante sets the Commedia). His daughter Chiara is a famous medieval historian too. Mad Christmas dinners in that house, I should think. I once went in to Trinity Books after they'd bought a load of wonderful Italian stuff and picked up copies of Peter Armour, The Door of Purgatory: A Study of Multiple Symbolism in Dante's Purgatorio (Oxford: OUP, 1983), and his Dante's Griffin and the History of the World, as well as John Took, "L'etterno piacer": Aesthetic Ideas in Dante, John Freccero, Dante: The Poetics of Conversion and Rachel Jacoff (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Dante. Except for the last all hardbacks, and all in great shape. I actually thought I was having a mirage to see all that stuff in one place in what is the least densely populated part of Western Europe. I may have started to hyperventilate or at least make some form of alarming moaning noises. You just never know where or when a book is going to turn up. Of course it's the stuff I didn't buy then that still sticks in my mind, like Patrick Boyde's Dante Phylomythes, to be republished imminently in paperback, or Anthony Cassell's Dante's Fearful Art of Justice, or the folly purchase which would have been three volumes of Edward Moore's Studies in Dante (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1896). But I'm getting over it, and was very grown-up about the whole thing. I've nearly forgotten about them. Three years later.

Lesley Grant-Adamson's third novel is called Guilty Knowledge and was published in 1986 by Faber. The novel's heroine, Rain Morgan, a gossip columnist with the Daily Post, hatches a plan to get a junkit to the Cote d'Azur for a few days in the depths of winter. She will interview Sabine Jourdain, the mistress of a famous artist, who rumour has it wants to talk. Off she goes with her on-off lover, a cartoonist named Oliver, and before you know it they are up to their necks in it. It seems that Rain and her questions have been the catalyst in a whole series of murderous events that leads even to her own safety being threatened. At the heart of the mystery seems to be the reclusive and brilliant artist Marius Durance and the group of glamourous people around him. There are the high-powered dealers, Benjamin and Merlyn Joseph, and Philippe Maurin, the charming gallery owner. And then the remains of Durance's coterie of beautiful women, Sabine herself, and Barbara Coleman. It seems the minute that Rain starts asking questions, both Sabine and Barbara are being urged not to speak, by the Josephs and by Maurin, but what could they have to say that threatens everyone?

Grant-Adamson's novels often have a female detective, or in this case just a nosey journalist who wants to get to the bottom of a murder (or two), and her strength is in the way she draws women who are both frightened of the situations they find themselves in, and determined to understand those situations. In this story Rain and Oliver are constantly about to catch a flight back to England but Rain wants to talk to one last person to put another piece of the puzzle in place. She is always about to say enough, this story isn't worth what's happening, but at the same time she is constantly making connections that draw her deeper and deeper, until eventually she gets in a little too deep. The book is well structured and interesting, though the title, Guilty Knowledge, does not quite work for the story and is, perhaps, a little banal. It's a pity because it is not written that way. It gets a little complicated at the end as the different threads are being brought together, but the killer and their motives (keeping it gender neutral there for you) have a powerful simplicity, like all the best murder stories. And the whole book has been preparing you for that simplicity.

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