The Stupid Milk is the first in a new series of blockbuster paperback potboilers by Pebblehead. The threads linking the projected series of a dozen books are the protagonist, tiptop secret agent Jug Souptin, and the titles, each of which is a translation from the Welsh of a near-anagram of the name of a twentieth-century American female avant garde choreographer. The use of such an Oulipian constraint is something of a departure for Pebblehead, and we can perhaps see the influence of his new literary agent, International Woman of Mystery Primrose Dent.
Frau Dent has long conducted her mysterious affairs according to dazzlingly complicated rules derived, ultimately, from the kinds of constraints employed by the writers of the Oulipo. So inexplicable are her doings that few can work out what it is she actually does, let alone the constraints she applies. All we can say for certain is that many, if not most, of her enigmatic schemes involve the use of Fuller’s earth, Coddington lenses, and Leyden jars.
Certainly all of these materials have appeared, in varying quantities, in the grounds of Pebblehead’s so-called “chalet o’ prose” since he was taken under the wing of Primrose Dent. And it is surely no accident that, in his very first adventure, tiptop secret agent Jug Souptin is called upon to foil a dastardly plot conceived by a criminal maniac whose chief weapons are given as Fuller’s jars, Coddington earth, and Leyden lenses (pp. 46-49).
Souptin himself is a curiously bashful hero for a Pebblehead book. He is winsome, distracted, and pale, with impossibly dainty hands and girly eyelashes. On page 9, we learn that “he would not say boo to a goose”, and not long afterwards (p. 12) he indeed encounters a goose on a canal towpath and signally fails to say “boo” to it, instead skipping away to hide behind a splurge of lupins until the goose has gone away. (The goose reappears, incidentally, on page 149, marching at the head of a gaggle of its fellows, honking, in a thrilling scene which ends with the criminal maniac toppling into a crevasse.)
The stupid milk of the title is goaty milk into which has been injected a serum which renders stupid anybody who drinks it. As ever with Pebblehead, a great deal of research has gone into the book, and he provides a recipe for the serum which any of us could whip up in a lab in five minutes. For the purposes of this review I did just that, then injected the resulting serum into a carton of goaty milk and fed it to several guinea pigs, including a guinea pig, a stray cat, a guide dog, a leafcutter ant, and the Labour Party MP David Lammy. I can confirm that Pebblehead certainly seems to know his stuff, but luckily I am not a criminal maniac, so I have not, like Jug Souptin’s foe in the book, concocted millions of gallons of the stupid milk and poured it into important reservoirs around the globe.
On a scale of fabness, I would deem this blockbuster to be tremendously fab. It has its faults, of course, particularly in Pebblehead’s portrait of the goose, which is unlike any goose one might meet in the real world. Indeed, I am not convinced the author knows exactly what a goose is. But we have been here before with Pebblehead. For all the diligence of his research and fact-checking in non-ornithological matters, he seems to have a blind spot when it comes to birds. Who can forget the tiny airborne ostriches which marred the otherwise excellent potboiler Tiny Airborne Ostriches!? Or the talking linnet in The Talking Linnet?
Interestingly, that linnet speaks Welsh. It may be worth going back to the book to see if anything it says is a near-anagram of the name of a twentieth-century American female avant garde choreographer. Then we might be able to make educated guesses at the forthcoming further adventures of tip top secret agent Jug Souptin!