Jack Trevor Story is very good at doing several things at once. Like all his writing, this book is comic, but it is also deadly serious. It is light, yet many layered. It is genre (insofar as ‘comic’ is genre), but mainstream. The characters at first seem overdrawn, bordering on caricature, yet they are in fact well-defined and very real, reflecting only their own creative vision of themselves and often captured with an intense accuracy produced from a few telling details. It is a rare treat to find all this in one novel, and that is before you consider the structure.
The tale begins as a mystery and slowly blossoms into a brilliant and affectionate portrait of a country heading towards war. It is not about the policy makers or those in the know, but about ordinary people whose daily concerns are more important and who struggle to make sense of the wider world. It is also a story about growing up. And, most of all, because it is about Horace Spurgeon Fenton, it is a story about Story.
The book rattles along at a breathtaking pace. Story doesn’t coddle his readers. He expects them to keep up because he treats them as intelligent (a good deal more so than many authors today). The writing is economical; every word, phrase, and sentence pulling its weight. The structure is the same. And what may seem like unconnected incidents, meanderings, comic asides, and interjections all tie together to create a satisfying coming-of-age tale in a rich and realistic setting.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. If you are interested in good writing, if you want to learn from a master, then find yourself as many Jack Trevor Story books as you can. You’ll have to go looking in second hand book shops because his work is no longer in print. It should be in print. It deserves to be in print. And it should be required reading for any student of Creative Writing.