Book Review – March 2019 – The Vinyl Detective 1: Written In Dead Wax – Andrew Cartmel


Sometimes, when my concentration isn’t great (right now I blame the sub-tropical temperatures in this hospital!) a change in reading material can help. A fellow patient was generous enough to lend me the first in Andrew Cartmel’s Vinyl Detective series, books I’d never heard of and would probably never have otherwise come across. And I’m smitten.

Our hero – it’s written in the first person; I know how obsessive some people are about this! – generally ekes out a living by looking for rare and collectible vinyl in charity shops, and selling it on online. He seems to know every charity shop in South West London, and the most time-efficient way to get around them by bus, using his travel card. But one day a woman bearing a card introducing her as, “N. Warren” appears at his door. She has one of the cards he’d had printed up years ago, styling himself as The Vinyl Detective, prepared to seek out any record you wanted but couldn’t find, but his business idea had never had any success. However, after a test of his vinyl knowledge, he’s given his mission: to seek out the fourteenth – and final – release on a promising 1950s Los Angeles jazz label called Hathor Records.

The owner of this company, Bobby Schoolcraft, allegedly killed himself, although various rumours flew around regarding bullying by representatives of a much larger rival company which eventually drove him to suicide. It quickly becomes clear that our vinyl detective’s mission may not be as simple as he had first anticipated. Nor is it as safe, as it appears he and his accomplice, the rather attractive N. Warren (okay, I’ll tell you, but this is the only spoiler you’re getting! – the N stands for Nevada, which apparently means “snowfall”), are not the only ones trying to track this rare piece of vinyl down. And their rivals look to have few scruples, prepared to stop at nothing – even, perhaps, murder – to be first to the prize…

Theres a great deal goes on in this book – but to tell you much more of the storyline would take us into spoiler territory. It has some absolutely wonderful supporting characters, notably DJ Stinky Stanmer and accident-prone dopehead – and fellow vinyl obsessive – Tinkler, as well as “Clean Head,” as the Vinyl Detective names their efficient tail-losing Hackney driver. Cartmel displays his ability to construct a plot that really doesn’t flag; indeed, it zips along for its 474 pages, while taking in trips to Japan and California as part of the Vinyl Detective’s mission. In California he finds out more about the demise of Hathor Records when he becomes entangled with the granddaughter of a talented jazz vocalist (Rita Mae Pollini, who featured on some of the label’s releases), much to Nevada’s chagrin. Cartmel is an exceptionally witty, highly observant writer, capturing the obsessional tendencies of record collectors (indeed, any, generally male, “anorak”-type activity.) I was delighted to find out there were another two books in the series available – I’m currently engrossed in number two, The Run Out Groove. If you need a quirky break from the norm, but still want your fare share of murder and mayhem (plus some great cats!), do check out Andrew Cartmel. Plus you’ll never look at a crate of second-hand vinyl again without wondering if a gem which will make your fortune lies within…

Book 3 – Victory Disc – is available now on Titan Books.

Book 4 – Flip Back – is out in May on Titan Books.

Highly recommended!

This review was taken from a copy borrowed from a friend, and is unbiased.

BLURB: He is a record collector -a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others. Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of an extremely wealthy, yet shadowy, client. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…