Friday, December 6, 2019


WRITTEN IN DEAD WAX by Andrew Cartmel (Titan Books, 2016)

Reviewed by Shane Donald

He is a record collector — a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others.

Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording — on behalf of an extremely wealthy (and rather sinister) shadowy client. 

Given that he’s just about to run out of cat biscuits, this gets our hero’s full attention. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I first came across the work of Andrew Cartmel at a young age. In the late 1980s he served as script editor of Doctor Who, as well as writing novels and audio plays for that series. You might also have seen his work with Ben Aaaronovich for the latter’s Rivers of London graphic novels.

In more recent years, Andrew Cartmel has created The Vinyl Detective series (currently there are four novels in print, with a fifth due out soon) about an unnamed ‘crate diver’ who hunts for rare pieces of vinyl in charity shops. This is done to put food on his table and in his cats’ bowls. When Nevada Warren turns up on his door step asking him to find a rare album for a collector who wishes to remain in the background, our hero has no choice but to agree; he needs the money and the challenge appeals to him.

I really enjoyed this novel and it sets up the series very well. A sense of place is established early on as the Vinyl Detective scours London to find a rare jazz album and we are introduced to his best friend Tinkler, another audiophile, and his domestic set up in which his two cats figure as strongly as any human character. We also meet Stinky Stanner, a radio DJ who steals ideas for playlists from the narrator who we learn is a failed DJ himself.

Having an unnamed protagonist adds interest to the story as you read for details to fill in what you think you know about him. I don’t know much about jazz and how to set up a sound system for playing vinyl, but I do after reading this novel.. Cartmel is a jazz fan and vinyl collector and it shows. If you like music and mysteries that are fun and reimagine the domestic world as one in which almost anything can happen, I recommend this as a good place to start this series.

Shane Donald is a New Zealander living in Taiwan. An avid reader with 3,000 books in his home, he completed a dissertation on Ngaio Marsh for his MA degree, and also has a PhD in applied linguistics.

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