From time to time, I review a novel and tell you that I admired the writing, but did not like the book, either because of the characters or the values, or just the author’s attitude.
Henry Wood Detective Agency by Brian Meeks presents precisely the opposite situation, and I don’t recall this happening before. I didn’t think the writing was great, but I liked the book immensely, like a friend who never combs his hair and isn’t very articulate, but is still a lot of fun to be with.
The story starts on New Year’s Day 1955. Henry Wood is a Manhattan private detective. He’s a quiet man whose great pleasures are reading and woodworking.
A beautiful young woman comes into his office and asks him to help her find a journal belonging to her father, an accountant who has disappeared. He takes the case. Soon after another beautiful young woman comes to him and asks him to find the same journal. She’s the daughter of an inventor, who has also disappeared.
This is kind of fishy, but things are about to get fishier still. There’s a mob connection, and there’s a fire and a murder, and cryptic clues lead to strange – make that improbable – discoveries.
There’s also a science fiction – or fantasy — element. Henry has a closet in his house which periodically dispenses “gifts” – magazines dated in the future, woodworking tools, even a DVD player with a disk (and, thankfully, instructions).
It’s all very bizarre. I kept being reminded of Alice in Wonderland, though this isn’t the same kind of story at all. Through all this strangeness Henry Wood maintains his quiet, earnest character. He does right, and he works most of it out in the end.
Brian Meeks’ writing style is odd. It’s extremely understated. That could be a brilliant stylistic choice on the author’s part, though a fair number of common writing errors scattered through the story suggest that it isn’t. But I wish more new authors would opt for plain, simple prose instead of trying to dazzle us and failing. The dialogue is odd – the characters generally avoid contractions, saying “I will” instead of “I’ll,” and “do not” instead of “don’t.”
But reading Henry Wood Detective Agency was a very pleasant experience. The prose was almost incantatory. It relaxed me.
I enjoyed this book and plan to read the others in the series.
Recommended. It has subdued violence, no sex, and one obscenity that I noticed.
Lars Walker is the author of several published fantasy novels, the latest of which is an e-book, Hailstone Mountain.