Title: Edie Investigates
Author: Nick Harkaway
Published: 14 February 2012
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Knopf Doubleday
Genre: short story, mystery
Source: eARC from the publisher via NetGalley
Old Donny Caspian has been found dead, and Tom Rice, “recently appointed Under-Nobody in charge of sod all”, has been sent by his organisation to oversee the investigation with firm instructions that the death be attributed to natural causes. But the corpse is missing its head, and Tom cannot do as told. Is it possible that his true purpose in the investigation has been concealed from him? He goes to a little tea shop called The Copper kettle to await further instructions.
Also in The Copper Kettle, “locked in combat with tea apparently made out of sump water”, is Edie Banister, retired spy, now a single old lady trying to avoid falling into the single-old-lady stereotypes (although she’s not averse to using them when it suits her). Donny was a good friend and she’s in town to ensure that things are done right. If not, “[s]he would arrive, spot the hidden clue and read the scene in the light of her knowledge of the secret parts of Donny’s life, and pronounce gravely that these were matters to be dealt with at the highest level”. Edie imagines it will be “like a bit of a last bow, a sort of Edie Rides Again”. In the meantime, she sits in the tea shop, seeing herself “reflected in the mirror as a cake-eating, gossipy Old Lady Detective” and thinks back about her first days as a spy, when she met Donny.
When Tom comes in however, her attention is inexplicably drawn to him, and it’s in The Copper Kettle that both of them realise that there really is something suspicious going on.
This short story has a lot going for it in terms of writing – it’s funny, charming, and full of detail. So much detail in fact, that once or twice the story meanders into arguably unnecessary territory, but it worked for me, so no harm done. I highlighted quite a few passages that I found amusing, most of which were related to Edie, who I think is a fantastic character. I couldn’t help but worry about her – she is in her eighties, after all – but she’s defied expectations of being a weak little female since the start of her career and she continues to do so in retirement.
The downside is that this eShort is essentially a way of introducing Edie, who plays a major part in Harkaway’s novel, Angelmaker. As a result, Edie Investigates feels incomplete and the plot is decent at best, particularly since the it’s largely preoccupied with Edie’s past, and deals rather briefly with Tom and Donny Caspian’s death. This wasn’t too problematic though – the writing and characters were enough to keep me interested in this short read.
Included in the eShort is the first chapter of Angelmaker, introducing us to the main character Joe Spork, the son of an infamous London criminal. Joe hasn’t followed in his father’s footsteps but spends his quiet life repairing antique clocks. Edie is one of his clients, and he repairs a little clockwork toy for her. According to the novel’s blurb, the clockwork gadget turns out to be a 1950s doomsday device. Having triggered it, Joe finds himself and Edie on an insane adventure featuring “mad monks, psychopathic serial killers, scientific geniuses and threats to the future of conscious life in the universe, he realizes that the only way to survive is to muster the courage to fight” (Goodreads blurb).
Frankly, I didn’t need the first chapter of Angelmaker. I didn’t find it particularly intriguing, and like the eShort it’s got loads of tiny details, only this time they felt a bit more like hard work than quaint amusements. Edie Investigates was enough to get me interested enough in Edie to read a whole novel featuring her, and I already wanted to read Angelmaker thanks to a positive review and the rather enticing blurb. But hey, the first chapter’s there if you want it – read it, don’t read it. Edie Investigates is worth a look either way (you can buy it on Amazon) and I still think Angelmaker looks like a great book.