Martin loves to play games with the reader and his characters. His writing is funny and nasty by turns, but it’s all done with a knowing touch that allows him to tease out intriguing ideas. Accordingly, this story never quite goes where we think it will. The attitudes and social mores belong entirely to the period, as does the reason for the murders — as an antidote to ennui. This is a rare creature, a murder mystery that manages to be both comic and an existential thriller.
Andrew Martin’s latest novel, The Winker (Corsair, £16.99), takes place at the beginning of the 1976 summer heatwave. The titular character, pint-sized psychopath and failed pop star Lee Jones, picks people up in smoke-filled pubs before dispatching them in the hope that murder will be his path to fame (although, given the assonance, “winker” doesn’t seem a very desirable moniker). Charles Underhill, mysteriously exiled in Paris for something he did in his youth, is troubled by a series of anonymous postcards that hint at knowledge of his past, and recruits a struggling young novelist to find out who is sending them. The result is an immersive and highly enjoyable game of cat-and-mouse with perfect period texture and some nicely wry humour.