With the past two installments of the Vinyl Detective series, we’ve had an exploration of vinyl collecting along with the Jazz music industry of the 1930s-50s, and a focus on collecting singles combined with an exploration of the psychedelic rock scene of the 1960s-70s in the UK. This basically leaves one last major type of record album to cover – 78 rpm shellac records, and wartime jazz music.
In this book, The Vinyl Detective (still unnamed), and his girlfriend Nevada are hired to find a collection of 78 RPM shellac records – specifically the recordings of the Flare Path Orchestra, a fictitious RAF Swing orchestra made up of bomber pilots, crews, and support staff. However, as with the earlier books, these records hold a secret, one that people are willing to kill over. As before, as the investigation goes on, the body count slowly starts to climb…
Unlike the earlier books in the series, the twist here feels like a little more of a stretch. Some of the clues are there when you go back and look at the earlier installments of the book. However, without giving it away, it makes for less of an “Aha!” moment and more of a “Huh” moment.
Similarly, the eccentricity of the material covered makes the book feel like the collector side of things is pushed to the back burner. Written in Dead Wax laid the ground-work, while the appeal of The Run-Out Groove, and collecting singles was based on the fact that often some of the B-Sides never really made it onto the larger albums, so you can discover a completely different side (no pun intended) of an artist through the B-sides of their albums. With Victory Disk, it felt like the whole hook was “shellac records have all the capacity of a single, without the wear and tear of repeat plays… but they will break into tiny pieces if dropped, making them incredibly rare and difficult to handle.”
It shifts the meat of the story to life as bomber crews and as civilians in the UK during World War II. The problem being for me, because stories about life in the UK during the Blitz are practically a staple of British literature from a particular period (and music for that matter as well – “Goodbye Blue Sky” from The Wall was taken from Roger Waters recollections of his very early childhood during The Blitz, and then growing up after), and also because I spent much of my adolescence reading about World War II, with a particular focus on the Air War, it lead me to a large portion of the book being spent following British People learning relatively recent British history that I already knew. It’s the same problem I ran into with Connie Willis and Blackout/All Clear.
To be clear – this is a problem that’s specific to me. If you don’t know this stuff already, then you’ll definitely learn something. However, I ultimately found the history portions a little wearying at parts. The rest of the mystery and suspense portion of the story works out relatively well, and I particularly like how the confrontation with the murderer is handled in this book. It really shows how the Vinyl Detective has really, well, matured as a detective.
I do wonder where future books in the series will go, or if will Cornell will wrap the books up here? The only real options are to go to wax cylinders, reel-to-reel tape, or 8 tracks and cassettes if you’re going to shift mediums, or skip of the mediums of music entirely, and just delve into the history of different genres of music and recording – there’s still ’80s electronic music and hip-hop, ’80s hair metal, blues, and disco when it comes to music genres that are represented on vinyl. Oh, and country – but I honestly don’t know how big country is in the UK.
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