My Darling Detective by Howard Norman


Tony's characterization of this book, "light playful fun, perfect for listening to rather than reading" was convincing enough for me. I recall being quite taken with Howard Norman's The Bird Artist, apparently read in the pre-blog days.

The book is set in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1970s and concerns events that occurred in 1945 just around the time of the birth of Jake Rigolet, the narrator of the story. The story of these events come to light because Jake's mother, former librarian now locked up in a "rest home" escapes to mutilate a Robert Capa photograph at an auction that Jake is attending at the behest of his employer. It turns out that Jake's girlfriend is a policewoman who questions, then befriends Jake's mother Nora. There are lots of fun and appealing bits to this fun book that seem more the point than the tale itself.

There's the reference to an actual Robert Capa photograph, Death on a Leipzig Balcony; the young soldier who was killed by a sniper became known as the last man to die in the war. A long story in The Guardian tells the story of the soldiers, the apartment, and Capa.

Jake and Martha love listening to a radio detective program that involves a detective and his girlfriend. I like the description of a hotel where a suspect has been spotted: "It's got rats for bellhops, the concierge is a cockroach, the breakfast cook's got one of those World War I mustard gas coughs, and the dining room doubles as a funeral home." 

In assessing how their lives  are going, Jake enumerates the positives (including the renewal of the silly radio program) and the worrisome things. He says some days felt "like when an orchestra warming up; all of the disparate sounds, oboe, violin, bassoon,French horn, timpani, you can't imagine how it will turn into something beautiful."

Though I was entertained, for me the book had a limited emotional tone throughout, even when the words and events warranted something else. Though I grew a little weary of the "playful fun," I was sufficiently engaged.

Howard Norman, My Darling Detective, Blackstone Audio, 2017, (print: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 256 pages). I listened to the audiobook. Available from the UVa and public libraries and from Amazon.

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