Aberystwyth Mon Amour is a light hearted pastiche of the Philip Marlowe novels written by Raymond Chandler – The Big Sleep and so on. It’s set in Aberystwyth, a remote town on the west coast of Wales, and replaces Chandler’s mafia with the druids, and his hard liquor with ice cream cornets and ninety nines!
It’s quite a feat to transpose the culture and mood of the Los Angeles criminal underworld to a small Welsh coastal town and make everything somehow fit – so there are all kinds of odd quirks and to some extent unacceptable plot elements to Aberystwyth Mon Amour. Nevertheless it does work in many ways even though, or maybe because, the whole premise is so ridiculous. I have just put the book down, but don’t ask me to explain the plot. Well, I’ll try.
Myfanwy, the gorgeous Welsh night club dancer approaches Louie Knight, private detective, to ask his help finding her missing cousin, George the Boot. During his investigations he discovers a plan to re-colonise the Welsh Atlantis – the sunken city in the Irish sea off the coast of Wales. Various bullying and corrupt Welsh school teachers are building an arc and selling tickets. They have a history with our heroic detective. It involves cross country runs and forged parental notes – and a death. The work of Brainbocs, an incredibly intelligent Welsh schoolboy, is a key to the plot.
There is a hunchback dwarf who is very protective of the workings of a town hall clock. There is the historical misadventure of the Welsh Vietnam – the abortive attempt to conquer Patagonia – the accompanying war crimes and the war veterans gathered in groups as down-and-outs on the beaches of Aberystwyth. There is Bianca, the tart with a heart, and Iola Jones the museum manager and missing person. There’s Eeyore, Louie’s father – the man who sells donkey rides on the beach. And there’s Brainboc – and how will they float the arc? That is the real burning issue!
Well you kind of get the picture? It’s a ridiculous load of nonsense with a pretty complicated plot that’s really subservient to Malcolm Pryce’s often witty and usually entertaining pastiche of the stereotypes of film noir and the verbal tics of Raymond Chandler’s hard-bitten prose. There are times when its so inventively weird that it’s completely bonkers. And lots of it is Welsh of course – stove pipe hats and other sorry Welsh costumes are involved along with all the paraphernalia of British sea side holidays – sticky rock and bad weather.
I have to admit to having had this book on my bookshelf once years ago and not being able to get past chapter one. I gave it to a charity bookshop but a friend recently recommended it, and lent me his copy. Maybe it was mine coming back? He’s a keen second hand book reader!
In any case it was a lot better than I’d originally feared though I did skim the last twenty or so pages as it was no longer gripping me, and most of the jokes had been played out by then.