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Dead on Time Paperback – 1 May 2007
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The book begins with a simple premise: what if a character very much like James Bond got laid off? Bond is an individual who, especially in the original Ian Fleming novels, really had no personal life to speak of. His entire existence revolved around his career with British Intelligence, and the dangerous missions that he carried out for his superiors. So what would happen to a man like Bond if he suddenly lost his job, indeed, his basic reason for being?
Such is the case with Thornton King, an MI5 agent let go amidst departmental budget cuts. The former globe-trotting agent is experiencing something of an existential crisis, left wondering what to do with the rest of his life. The only area in the private sector that Thornton feels he is even remotely qualified for is investigative work. He sets himself up as a private detective, based out of a cramped office in a dilapidated Victorian edifice, his drab surroundings reflecting both his personal and economic prospects.
Of the individuals who Thornton can still count as acquaintances, the majority is made up of shady, unreliable types. His only real friend is Holly Day, a chipper socialite with a thirst for excitement and adventure. Thornton is also still on speaking terms with the elderly expatriate Russian Princess Olga Spitskaya, a figure from his espionage days. The expression "a riddle wrapped in an enigma" might very have been coined to describe the sly Princess, whose motivations are as complex as they are unfathomable.
As if getting his career as a private detective started up was not difficult enough, Thornton soon finds himself tangled up in a series of murders. Various wealthy individuals of ill repute have been dying under mysterious circumstances, often after being spotted in the company of glamorous women. Unfortunately for Thornton, a number of these killings take place while he is in the immediate vicinity, causing the police to focus their attention on him. Holly is also aware of these unusual deaths, and decides to engage in some amateur sleuth work, drawing the reluctant Thornton even further into events. The trail of evidence leads Thornton and Holly into the world of high fashion, specifically a modeling school run by Princess Spitskaya.
There is a definite element of farce to Dead On Time. Glyn Jones frames events simultaneously with an air of the sinister and the ridiculous. The tone is somewhat akin to the 1960s British spy series The Avengers. Thornton and Holly make an interesting pair, engaging in witty banter and playful jabs at one another. The rapid back-and-forth give-and-take as the pair verbally spar moves most of the novel along as a pretty brisk pace. On occasion the two are perhaps a bit too facetious, not taking things nearly as seriously as they ought to, or going off on some random tangent. But on the whole it works out.
Thornton and Holly remind me somewhat of a platonic version of Nick and Nora Charles from Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. There appears to be an unspoken attraction between Thornton and Holly, but Jones rarely dips into that, leaving that aspect of their friendship as mostly an undercurrent.
In spite of the novel's rather jaunty air, at the end the narrative veers into certain deep philosophical considerations. The villain's motivations and justifications are right out of the sardonic musings of "What Keeps Mankind Alive" from Brecht's The Threepenny Opera. Jones quite deftly executes this rapid changing of gears. There could easily have been a glaring incongruity with the novel's previous flippant tone. Instead, the tension and excitement are dramatically ramped up in the books final chapters. At the same time, Thornton and Holly retain their sharp commentary on events, making certain that the book is never completely absent of humor, even if it is a rather acrid wit.
Jones does a good job in developing Thornton and Holly throughout Dead On Time. They are definitely compelling characters, and I look forward to reading their further adventures.
Amazon's transfer of the original to Kindle is nothing short of a disgrace. The scanning process has littered the story with serious typos and errors of punctuation, to say nothing of introducing ludicrous line-breaks. Clearly, there was no attempt at proof-reading the transfer to Kindle before the e-book was made available. This oversight must be laid fairly and squarely at Amazon's door. Kindle books, in my experience, always contain typos and inexplicable spacing, and it's one reason why at least two of my acquaintances have binned their Kindles and reverted to buying hard-copy books. After finding 60+ such errors, I struggled to continue reading this book - but that is because of Amazon and is NO reflection upon Glyn Jones.
If Amazon wish to continue growing the market for Kindle products, they MUST get their act together and employ proof-readers for these e-books. If Kindle readers keep being penalised for buying the cheaper product, they may just do what I am seriously contemplating: paying a bit more for the hard-copy book to avoid the Kindle substandard transfers.
In London private eye Thornton King, who formerly worked for MI5 and was made redundant, and Holly Day observe several seemingly uncorrelated bizarre murders. Suddenly they get into focus. But why?
If you love mysteries, try this!
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