William Deverell — Novelist

The official website of William Deverell, Winner of the Dashiell Hammett Award for Literary Excellence in North American Crime Writing

The Blog: February 18, 2014

For the Fun of It

Dear future best-selling crime writers: an apology.

In my last entry, February 8, I promised that this week I would offer strategies for devising compelling, page-turning ideas for your plots – strategies that, admittedly, I filched from Horace Widgeon. But I got sidetracked by the old sot himself.

Here’s what happened. The other day I visited a used-book store – I don’t normally go to such places; it’s hard seeing your books on the dollar rack, earning not a nickel in royalties – hoping to buy a replacement copy of Widgeon’s The Mystery Novel Unravelled, one of his popular How To’s. My own copy had itself unravelled, from heavy thumbing.

None was in stock, and I ended up purchasing a dog-eared copy of one of his novels. Truth to tell, I hadn’t been keeping up with this prolific author since I was turned off by his depressing 1985 award-winner, Digging Your Own Grave.

The book I bought is titled For the Fun of It, which I thought an odd title for a crime novel. Perhaps the author had written something light-hearted for a change, hoping to persuade readers he actually has a sense of humour, one he managed to stifle in his thirty-five Inspector Grodgins novels.

For the Fun of It came out two decades ago, and no, it’s not comedic. However, to my surprise, I became completely absorbed in it. The setting, as in most of Widgeon’s fictions, is the apparently crime-ravaged town of Illings-on-Little Close, where evildoers are invariably brought to justice by the indomitable but stuffy Inspector Grodgins and his wrong-footing sidekick, Constable Marchmont.

As a result of a bullet wound to the head in a prequel, which I now regret not having read, Grodgins was still suffering a severe visual agnosia, impairing his ability to recognize familiar faces, and even objects. Despite the handicap, his finely tuned skills had him closing in on a bad apple who’d randomly killed several friendless loners.

The following majestic passage is POV the sexually challenged bad guy, who can achieve climax only in the presence of death … and commits murder, yes, for the fun of it. (Widgeon provides a dubious psychological mock-up of this rare disorder, which I’ll skip here.)

“He could feel it mounting. He could feel it coming. Then, as he watched Tom the Poacher’s ruddy face turn blue, there came an accelerating procession of orgasmic jolts, more powerful than with Donny Millibun, more powerful than in his most intense fantasies. There followed an explosion of pure, rich, volcanic pleasure that coursed hotly through every gland and organ and muscle, and that thickened and hardened his phallus until it felt like a pulsing stretch of tempered steel, and that found such shuddering, ecstatic release through that orifice that he fought to stifle a roar of rapture.”

Doubtless, before launching into that prurient paragraph, Widgeon downed a several stiff shots of his favourite malt.

Spoiler alert: if a copy of For the Fun of It happens to be lying on your bed table, as yet unopened, you ought to close this window immediately and return to your Facebook page.

I’ll give you a moment…

For those brave men and women left, here’s a synopsis of the climactic final chapter, set in the billiards room of Illings Close Castle, wherein the visually impaired inspector has assembled divers suspects with faces he can’t recognize, among them the premise’s resident earl, Lord Scarfe-Robbins – whom Grodgins isn’t able to pinpoint in the crowd, though he hurls challenges in his general direction.

“In your efforts at normal sexual conjoining,” the inspector declaims (at no one in particular), “you were impotent, sir. As Donny Millibun underwent his death throes after falling from the roof, you found yourself aroused to the point of orgasm. Then the killings began. In your warped mind, you realized you’d finally found a satisfying form of congress with another – in death. Yes, murder, the only way you could achieve a sexual climax.”

“You’re dead wrong, you rotter!”

Grodgins seeks the source of that frantic voice, and is finally able to locate Lord Scarfe-Robbins in the faceless crowd, whereupon he produces, at the end of a billiard cue, what he hopes is a pair of soiled underwear. “Your Lordship is perhaps unfamiliar with the new science of DNA profiling. The semen on this garment, sir, holds your genetic fingerprints.”

As Scarfe-Robbins bolts for the stairs, a man in some kind of uniform races off in pursuit, nearly toppling Mrs. Gullweather. Grodgins easily concludes the pursuer is Constable Marchmont.

Lord Scarfe-Robbins is ultimately marched off to the pokey swearing vengeance against the protagonist. “I’ll get you one day, Grodgins! I’ll cut out your gizzard, you stinking, short-eyed bastard!” Brilliantly setting the stage for the sequel.

In brief denouement, Inspector Grodgins arrives home, his agnosia still in full bloom, to find a female foursome playing bridge in the parlour, and he can’t tell which is his wife.