Book Review: The Vinyl Detective – Written in Dead Wax


Back when I was in Middle School, I discovered the Lovejoy Mysteries, first through the TV series and then through the novels. However, some aspects of the books, such as Lovejoy’s attitude towards women, have aged poorly. So, while I enjoy going back to the books (and I should get around to reading them at some point in the future), they are kind of hard to recommend.

On the other hand, in addition to being interesting mystery novels, they’re also very educational, as the series tought me a log about antiques. Consequently, as time has gone on, I’ve been looking for another series like that.

Then my father pointed me in the direction of the first book in the Vinyl Detective series by Andrew Cartmel. At the get go, the author caught my attention, as a fan of Doctor Who. Cartmel was the show-runner for the show during the last few seasons of the 7th Doctor’s run, and Cartmel would join Ben Arronovich to work on the Virgin New Adventures novels.

The book follows the titular “Vinyl Detective” – who is, like the Continental Op, left unnamed. Unlike the Op, though, the Vinyl Detective is not hard-boiled and jaded – quite the contrary. At the start of the book, our protagonist, who I’m going to call “VI” because I have to call him something and “VD” has a different connotation, is a record collector and failed DJ who makes a living flipping records.

However, when he was younger, he printed upa  bunch of business cards advertising himself as “The Vinyl Detective”, who can find any record. One of those cards ended up in the hands of a very rich businessman, who wants to hire VI to find the final album released by Hathor Records (a fictional record label) in the 1950s. The record, “Easy Come, Easy Go”, was also the lastalbum by Jazz musician “Easy” geary. The record on its own is worth a fortune, but someone feels it’s worth enough to kill a bunch of people over.

Going from this book, and some beats that Cartmel dropped in his Doctor Who stories, I can say that Cartmel is a big fan of Jazz, and his knowledge of the history of Jazz music is clear on the page. I can’t compare it to something like the novel of High Fidelity, but it reminds me somewhat of the knowledge that went into the film. There is a similar level of research whne it comes to collecting vinyl albums. VI has a tremendous level of knowledge on collecting and playing vinyl. VI in particular is a vinyl-phile at a level equal to, or maybe just below, Neil Young.

However, he’s not as obnoxious about it as Young. He comes across as wanting to share his passion. He looks down on CDs, MP3s, and even DAT (and thus presumeably also FLAC and OGG). However, when it comes to interatcting with some of the characters in the novel who aren’t into vinyl and are wondering why, his response is more to share why he thinks vinyl is awesome, instead of being a scoffing gatekeeper. It’s very interesting in contrast with Lovejoy – Lovejoy is absolutely a gatekeeper. Lovejoy loves the fact that he has knowledge that you don’t, and that makes him (in his eyes) better than you.

VI also has an interesting character arc. He never really becomes comfortable with death, but as the book goes on and the body count rises, he becomes more familiar with it. He doesn’t become hard boiled and jaded the way the Op is, but it feels like he better understands the world he’s ended up being forced into.

Probably the biggest though I found myself running into in this book is, “This is a book I should recommend to Pat Contri.” The reason being, that that the mindset of the VI feels like a similar mindset that I see in the retro game collection community as well – with the preference for original hardware, and some collectors even looking for Broadcast Reference Monitors to play their older games on. I absolutely recommend this book and I will be reading the rest of the series.

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