Renowned literary chameleon David Stafford’s new novel is a hugely fun, humorous and accessible take on the 1920s murder mystery dynamic
Edition Published by: Allison & Busby, 2021
There are few who understand multi-faceted drama quite as well as David Stafford. His experience spans decades across media for theatre, TV and radio, crafting work with the likes of Benjamin Zepheniah and Alexei Sayle.
It’s no surprise, then, that the trademarks of his addictive style – genuine laugh-out-loud humour and a wry approach to societal ills – run rampant in Skelton’s Guide To Suitcase Murders.
Set in 1929 Britain, barrister Arthur Skelton’s life is uprooted when a woman’s dismembered body appears in a suitcase. Faced with the task of proving the murdered woman’s husband – Dr Ibrahim Aziz – innocent, Skelton and his clerk Edgar Hobbes embark on a gritty journey that’ll see them traverse London, Yorkshire and Scotland to find the true culprit before Aziz is sentenced to hang.
Quiet Humour and Potent Ethics
Right from the off, Stafford indulges in rich character dynamics and descriptions, as well as a sense of real childlike wonder; the possibilities eeked out of bleak, rural Britain seem endless:
‘One of the great things about the gravel pit was, just like it had ate the kid who died, sometimes it sicked stuff up’.
Like a lot of the best British comedies, Stafford draws humour out of the relatively mundane; Cluedo, for example, or discussions about the sizes of suitcases. But it’s always instantly recognisable. And the relationship between Skelton and his wife, or Skelton and Edgar, thrives and is brought to life by that brilliantly dry timing.
And as theatrical as the dialogue can be, it’s also fulsome and always well realised. Just as humour quickly rises out of thin air, so too does ethical potency:
Mila: ‘Flying isn’t a matter of brute strength; it’s a matter of endurance. And women endure. Women endure’.
Skelton: ‘Yes, they do. I’ve noticed that’.
Sure-fire Political Designs
Thanks to intricate crafting and sensitivity, the morality in the book never seems crowbarred-in. Where issues of race and gender arise, he tests the temperature of modernity and mixes it with 1920s sentiment perfectly.
In the early stages of the book there are reflections of dark truths come to light at the BBC in recent years and critical thinkers who subscribed to a poisonous Eugenics mentality. And he clearly understands the political dynamic between Britain and Egypt in the early 20th century. It’s direct in its social commentary, whether it be taking aim at racism or religion. And the progression of young legal student Rose Critchlow is a whirlwind come the novel’s end.
The Most Readable Murder Mystery of 2021?
Stafford brings everything full circle with a light, deft and nuanced hand. The narrative conclusions for most of the characters are as hilarious as they are touching.
Skelton’s Guide To Suitcase Murders can be considered one of the truly accessible, down-to-earth murder mysteries, helped in spades by rich portraits and human tangibility. It’s always immense fun and might just be one of the most readable murder mysteries of 2021.
You can buy Skelton’s Guide To Suitcase Murders from Allison & Busby now.