The Abnormal Butcher is the first in a series of potboilers bashed out by Pebblehead in a frenzied fortnight of potboiling. He wrote a complete novel each day for thirteen days and then, as he put it, “on the fourteenth day, I rested”. It is not the first time Pebblehead has blasphemously compared himself to the Almighty God, and it will not be the last.
The central character in the series is Ned Mossop, the so-called “gluten-intolerant private eye”. The matter of his gluten intolerance is not explored by Pebblehead, merely stated. This is not the only exasperating thing about the books. Were I to list the other exasperations it would come to many more than thirteen items so, time being short, instead I shall give a full list of all the titles in the series.
They are, in order of both composition and publication, The Abnormal Butcher, The Cow Detective, The Egg Freak, The Greasy Hinges, The Idiot Jar, The Knackered Latvian, The Mud-caked Nuns, The Oblivious Pipsqueak, The Queasy Ratcatcher, The Snodgrass Thermometer, The Uncanny Vase, The Wax Xylophone, and The Yobbo Zoo.
Although, as the central character, Ned Mossop is the only one to appear in all thirteen books, others crop up here and there, having walk-on parts or popping their heads above the parapet or being glimpsed in the distance getting up to some sort of mischief. Thus for example, in The Snodgrass Thermometer, when Ned Mossop and Caligula Snodgrass are engaged in a fight to the death on the edge of an Alpine crevasse, Pebblehead turns his attention, for several pages, to Sister Assumpta, one of the mud-caked nuns we met in the novel of that title. She is picking edelweiss a hundred yards away from the crevasse, on a slightly higher slope. As readers, all we care about is finding out who wins the impromptu boxing match between Mossop and Snodgrass. It is thus highly exasperating of Pebblehead to prattle on about a mud-caked nun to no apparent purpose. Why does he do it?
There are critics who claim that Pebblehead is brilliantly undermining the conventions of the detective fiction genre. Consider, for example, this excerpt from a review by Blossom Partridge, which appeared in Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest:
In his new series of novels featuring the gluten-intolerant private eye Ned Mossop, Pebblehead brilliantly undermines the conventions of the detective fiction genre. For example, in The Queasy Ratcatcher, Mossop is engaged in a fight to the death with the queasy ratcatcher on the edge of an Alpine crevasse when Pebblehead magnificently turns his attention, for several pages, to a clump of edelweiss on a slightly higher slope a hundred yards away. The flowers are being examined, through some sort of optical scope contraption, by Arpad Bogojugis, the knackered Latvian we met in the novel of that title. As readers, all we are meant to care about is the outcome of the impromptu boxing match on the edge of the crevasse, a hundred yards away and on a slightly lower slope. By diverting our attention in this way, by frustrating our desires, Pebblehead exasperates us to such an extent that we fling the paperback across the room into the fireplace, or drop it into the bath, or rip it to shreds with our bare hands, or otherwise damage it severely enough to render it unreadable.
Later, when we have calmed down over a nice cup of tea and some macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, we regret our fit of temper and begin to wonder (a) what Arpad Bogojugis learned about the clump of edelweiss and (b) who won the impromptu boxing match. Try as we might, we can get neither scene out of our head. Finally, draining our dainty teacup and scoffing the last of the macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, we put on our stout walking boots and our windcheater and we sally forth into the storm which is raging outside and go straight to the airport bookstall to buy a replacement copy of The Queasy Ratcatcher. And we note there is a special offer whereby we can purchase all thirteen volumes for the price of a baker’s dozen, so we snap them up, and pad out our shopping basket with a carton of teabags and a packet of either macaroons or Garibaldi biscuits, and we head home, in the teeth of a howling gale. Then we put the kettle on and look forward to reading the rest of Pebblehead’s utterly magnificent potboiler.
I have a great deal of time for Blossom Partridge, and I never miss an issue of her Weekly Digest, but in the case of Pebblehead I think she is wrong. What we are dealing with, I would argue, is simple narrative ineptitude. In fact, I have argued precisely this in an article I submitted to Miss Blossom Partridge’s Weekly Digest, in which I claim that success and blockbuster sales have gone to Pebblehead’s head, and that he sits there puffing on his pipe in his so-called “chalet o’ prose”, bashing out his potboilers at reckless speed, not caring one jot whether what he writes is even minimally coherent or, indeed, readable. He knows that anything he produces will sell in the millions. It has undone him.
POSTSCRIPT : Blossom Partridge has returned the piece I wrote for her Weekly Digest. Her accompanying letter reads as follows:
Dear Mr Key,
Much as I was riveted, really really riveted, by your Pebblehead piece, I am afraid I must reject it for publication because there is no space available in the Weekly Digest. The next several issues are given over wholly to my extended essay entitled Why I Have Had To Build A Large Storage Facility Adjacent To My Modest Nook In Order To Contain My Ever-Growing Collection Of Duplicate Copies Of Pebblehead Potboilers, Now Numbering In The Hundreds Of Thousands. I would add a polite note to express my sincere regret, but I am afraid I must dash as I have to head out in this terrible storm to the airport bookstall to purchase a few dozen further Pebblehead paperbacks.
Yours in haste,
Blossom Partridge (Miss)