Fortunately, with two detectives in the audience, the investigation is poised to begin on the right foot, and indeed, a suspect is apprehended almost immediately! But, as the investigation proceeds, suspect after suspect is cleared, and it slowly begins to appear impossible for anyone to have committed the crime! Thus, Come to Paddington Fair establishes itself firmly as a sort of spiritual sequel to Whistle up the Devil. Instead of a conventional locked room mystery, Smith gives his readers an impossible crime in the vein of “nobody could have committed the murder… and yet it happened!”
Without a doubt, one of my favourite posts of all-time on this blog is my review of Derek Smith’s Whistle up the Devil. I came to hear of the book because of French mystery scholar Roland Lacourbe, but I had never heard of Derek Smith before. When I read Whistle up the Devil, I absolutely loved it, but I couldn’t find anything about Smith online. So I decided to do some research and write a little bit about Smith for the review. The result was one of my favourite blog pieces ever, shedding some light on an obscure writer and book while giving the book a favourable review.
In many ways, Come to Paddington Fair is almost just as good as its predecessor, and I would argue in some aspects it even improves on the first book. In particular, Smith’s character development was much better this time around, especially where Algy Lawrence is concerned. Smith was much more successful this time around in making Lawrence an interesting detective. His goal for the character in Whistle up the Devil, as he described it in a letter to Doug Greene, was as follows: “What I had intended was a developing portrait of a young idealist, highly intelligent, yet rather naïve and slightly sentimental – a romantic who would eventually be caught in the trap of his own sensibilities.” Although he was not particularly successful in bringing this to life in his first book, he is much better at it in Come to Paddington Fair.
Another spot of improvement concerns the book’s atmosphere. Whistle Up the Devil began very poorly in this regard, although it improved slightly over time. But this time around, the book is steeped in the world of theatre, and Smith really manages to capture that atmosphere well. It works marvellously throughout. There are a few stylistic oddities from time to time – for instance, the same description of a character’s action is described in narration referring to a future conversation, and then the future conversation happens so we get that description again – but these are minor and do not detract from the book.
Overall, Come to Paddington Fair was a delightful read, in some ways even an improvement on its predecessor. I loved the plot, which presented a complex problem and easily kept my interest throughout. The characterization and atmosphere markedly improved, and I walked away from the book very glad that I had read it.