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Monday, December 27, 2010

Death and the Running Patterer, by Robin Adair, $15 (c2009)

Australia really is another country! I had difficulty getting into the rhythm of the writing. Was I putting the accent on the wrong word? I don't know. The book is subtitled: "A Curious Murder Mystery," and it is curious indeed.

I was initially entranced by the concept of a running patterer. The book starts off so well with the introduction of an ex-Bow Street Runner who is sent to 1828 Sydney as a punishment for an impolitic action in London. At that time the British Empire used Australia as one gigantic prison, and that is where Nicodemus Dunne is doing his time. His skills as an investigator are recognized by the superintendent of police, Francis de Rossi, so Dunne is released to be a semi-free man.

When he isn't assisting de Rossi, Dunne must earn his keep as a patterer. As you might guess from the word, it has something to do with talking. To inform both the illiterate and the literate-but-too-busy, Dunne gathers all the local newspapers and for a fee reads appropriate sections to his audience. He traverses the city bringing good news and bad, gossip and advertisements.

The current cases involve bizarre murders to soldiers or ex-soldiers of the 57th Regiment. The first man is found slashed to death in an alley next to a tavern. The slash marks indicate some sort of ritual to the killing. Soon there are others, and they are increasingly grotesque. The murderer helpfully also sends clues.

The premise is sound and interesting, but the execution was a little fuddled. There is a lightness in Dunne's demeanor and thinking when he is on stage. On the other hand, there is a grisly darkness when the murders are described. Because there are cultural and class details that need to be explicated, Robin Adair explicates, and explicates, and explicates. I was explicated to death. (Death by explication, hmmm.) I gave up about two-thirds of the way through.

I read the ending. I was not impressed.

There are lots of people who enjoy explication, learning history through mystery. Perhaps this book is for them.

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