Do you like cryptic crosswords or are you like me and find them impossible to crack? Either way this quintessentially British comic thriller could be for you.
In a complex plot told with enormous humour with more than a dash of the Boys Own feeling about it. John Fellows is a cryptic crossword compiler who employs two other puzzle enthusiasts, Turner, who sets chess problems and the newest employee, Overend, who sets bridge problems at the Bookman Bureau.
The Bookman Bureau was set up by Fellows Grandfather, Carl Bookman with his brother Sydney in the 1920’s at that time producing the cryptic crosswords for the daily papers. On one of those days that just seem to keep getting worse, John Fellows is advised his rent is being hiked, the demand for puzzles is not what it was in their heyday and he learns that Great Uncle Sydney has died and it seems that he wants to tell the family that Carl had been arrested for being a spy, sending messages to the enemy in the solutions to the crosswords.
The story is well structured all the sections headed ‘down’ are set in the war, telling the Bookman brother’s story while those marked ‘across’ detail the present day efforts of John Fellows to answer the myriad of questions posed by the deathbed speech of his Great Uncle as well as those posed by the mysterious package sent by his neighbour. There are also headings marked with chess moves which detail the life of inmate 27142629 who is carry out forced labour for the Russians.
The humour is very British and lifted by the appearance of Amanda, the only female in the book, who worked in the accountants downstairs.
‘Oi! I bought this T-shirt in Madison Square Gardens!’
‘And I’m very proud of it,’ said Turner
‘I’m proud of my twenty-five metres freestyle-swimming badge, but I’m not going to sew it onto my dress,’ said Amanda walking towards the door.
Amanda deciding that the overgrown schoolboys are far more interesting company joins them on their quest to find out the truth of what Carl Bookman did during the war, did he crack codes at Bletchley Park as Carl had always fondly imagined or was he a spy for t. he Germans?
This fairly short book, about three hundred pages, is a delight to read, with the D-Day landings described in a way unlike many history books, but one that I couldn’t help feeling that it wasn’t that far off reality. The three sections of writing all join together to create a proper ending and the comedy doesn’t squash the underlying story being told.
The author, James Cary is an award winning comedy BBC comedy radio and TV producer. Not far off Crossword Ends in Violence (5), his comedy series Hut 33 (Radio 4) about Bletchley Park boffins, starring Robert Bathurst and Olivia Colman, has run for three series and this comic thriller was a delight to read but despite some of the tricks used to solve cryptic crosswords are explained in the book, I’m still not convinced that I have much hope of ever completing one. If you like words, some historical humour or just fancy reading something a little bit different to the norm, you may well enjoy this book.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher Piqwiq in return for this honest review.