* REVIEWED IN EXCHANGE FOR FREE COPY*
Murder in Moscow (1951)- Andrew Garve
By far the best of the three, the unimaginatively titled 'Murder in Moscow' delivers exactly what it promises on the tin. Its real strength lies in the (presumed) accuracy of the period detail: Garve was a foreign correspondent in Moscow during World War II and a fluent Russian speaker, allowing him a rare understanding of a regime which took great pains to hide its murkier side from foreign visitors.
His insider knowledge is put to great use here, creating a striking sense of place. This makes the novel absorbing enough to compensate for its faults; the foremost being the frequently poor characterisation, especially where female characters are concerned.
Fortunately, this is not a character-driven narrative, and the plot is gripping once you get past the slow opening chapter, with plenty of twists and turns, including an unusual but masterful stylistic twist towards the end. A must for russophiles, and anyone interested in a contemporary account of the early Cold War.
Prescription for Murder (1990) - David Williams
And now for the worst of the anthology. The cloyingly-named 'hero' Mark Treasure is a fat-cat city banker who detects nothing more challenging than a caviar canapé for the best part of the novel, then deliberately helps the murderer skip the country when he realises that a cover-up would be in his company's best interests.
If disgust doesn't make you throw this aside, the extraneous detail will, unless you enjoy rambling descriptions of furniture and excruciatingly clunky maid-butler dialogue. The plot is often tenuous, particularly where it expects us to believe that cut-throat chief executives would willingly sacrifice huge profits to save the life of a man who seduced their wives. Add to this contrived cliff-hangers, a surfeit of unlikely coincidences, callous descriptions of animal experimentation and the fact that the promised murder of the title doesn't occur until three-quarters of the way in, and I think you'll agree to give it a miss!
A Game of Murder (1975) - Francis Durbridge
Although the final novel in the anthology lacks the awfulness of Williams' effort, it fails to hold a candle to Garve. Durbridge was more accomplished as a screenwriter than a novelist, which perhaps explains the TV thriller vibe of this piece. The story has rather a 'crime by numbers' feel; steadfast hero, beautiful but troubled heroine, sleazy glamour, grubby violence and a happy ending. There's nothing essentially wrong with it, but nor is there anything to recommend it over the reams of undemanding thrillers already in print. Each character embodies their stereotype to a fault, never stepping beyond the bounds of what is expected from a winning shop girl, a frumpy housekeeper or a thug for hire, but the plot is neatly handled and it bowls along at a good pace. Fine to while away a slow afternoon, but unlikely to become a favourite.