KILLED IN THE FOG (1996) by William L. DeAndrea

William L. De Andrea finally gets coverage on this blog, though paradoxically we begin at the end. Although not planned that way, this book turned out to be the last of the Matt Cobb novels after the author’s premature death at the age of just 44. Virtually none of DeAndrea’s novels have been published here in the UK, but as this one is set in London it seemed like the right one to pick. Cobb has been working for a TV network in New York with the lofty title of ‘Vice President of Special Projects’, which actually means he is their resident investigator / troubleshooter. But he decides to take indefinite leave, fearing that always seeing people at their worst will turn him into a permanent cynic. So with his girlfriend Roxanne, who practically owns the network, he moves to London for a quiet life …

“It was exactly the kind of thing I moved to London to get away from.”

Cobb and Rox move to a nice big house in London, fill it up with pets (having for the purposes of keeping their dog ‘Spot’ with them turned their residence into an official quarantine!) and start anew. After 3 months Cobb gets a little itchy for the old life and goes to visit his old friend Bernard, who is working at the satellite station TVStrato, which Rox’s Network co-owns with the rich and powerful Arkwright family, the publishers of ‘The Journal’ and  The Orbit’ newspapers. In other words, the Arkwrights are more or less the Murdoch clan, in real life (shudder) owners of the The Times and The Sun. Lady Arkwright asks Cobb to deliver a package, and foolishly he accepts. The man he is to deliver it to, just outside the ‘Planet Hollywood’ restaurant (remember those?) near the Trocadero in Piccadilly Circus, is shot at point-blank range but Cobb is unable to apprehend the murderer (who later turns up dead, or in Cobb’s phrase, ‘ventilated’) as the police arrest him for the murder instead. In one of the book’s mot enjoyable extended sections, Cobb dallies with Inspector Bristow, correctly surmising that as the victim was black, the police are holding Cobb overnight, even though he is innocent, to diffuse any potential racial tensions. All of this, given the rioting in London this Summer and the ongoing revelations about the Murdoch’s media empire and their appalling business practices, gives this book more than an added piquancy, even 15 years after its original publication. Bristow eventually comes round after checking Cobb’s bona fides with the New York police, later joshing him about the good references they provided:

“To hear the New York police department tell it, he’s a cross between Sherlock Holmes, Abraham Lincoln, and John Wayne, he has that much brains, virtue and courage. good to his mum, too, his secretary tells me.”

At its core this is an ‘American in London’ story and most of the fun, told in the first person with the author’s customary no-nonsense good humour and zest, derives from the counter-culture shocks and jokes at the expense of British customs and practices. Cobb never seems to tire of remarking on how different everything is compared with the US (it’s a big world Mr Cobb …): from the variety of toilet flushing mechanisms to the pronunciation of ‘brochure’ (Brits put the stress on the first syllable); everything is rich and strange and often just plain ‘wrong’; even the imported things that are meant to be identifiably from back home usually aren’t (with the exception of TGIF, a cultural export I could certainly do without). DeAndrea gets most of the geographical and cultural details right about London too, only getting the odd minor thing wrong here and there such as a couple of the TV references that he uses at the top of each chapter – but these are really minor quibbles though. The collision between the cosy and hardboiled tradition is here greatly emphasised by the London setting – or ‘Christieland’ as Cobb / DeAndrea refers to it several times – and mostly works to its advantage, with some choice potshots as the classic Brit in the classic detective tradition.

The left eye occasionally twitched, as though it were pining a monocle.

Having said that, it also means that it comes as no great surprise that the the villain (there will eventually be three deaths to solve) proves to be quite mad after generations of upper class in-breeding, with the climax taking place in a classic pea-souper with the hero chasing the villain in a fog-shrouded zoo late at night. It’s designed as an homage to a great tradition and in its modest way works best in that context. Cobb is a great character, a hardboiled hero solving traditional mysteries like Bill Pronzini’s ‘Nameless’ PI and is lovingly modelled on Archie Goodwin, the ‘legman’ in Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe stories. As with even the best of Stout, the plot is really not the thing here – it is perfectly serviceable but as a whodunnit it is pretty transparent and quite easy to spot the villain, not least because there are in fact only a handful of suspects. But the dialogue is fun and the setting remarkably topical, making this a light and engaging read. It’s a real shame there weren’t any more Matt Cobb novels. The complete series is made up of:

  1. Killed in the Ratings (1978)
  2. Killed in the Act (1981)
  3. Killed with a Passion (1983)
  4. Killed on the Ice (1984)
  5. Killed in Paradise (1988)
  6. Killed on the Rocks (1990)
  7. Killed in Fringe Time (1995)
  8. Killed in the Fog (1996)

This book turned out not to be quite the last word of Cobb though. In 2003 four Cobb short stories were collected with several other short pieces in the posthumous Crippen & Landru anthology, Murder – All Kinds. It includes a moving portrait of the author by his widow, the writer Jane Haddam (aka Orania Papazoglou) and I heartily recommend this book. It is available from the publisher here.

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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8 Responses to KILLED IN THE FOG (1996) by William L. DeAndrea

  1. Yvette says:

    I must admit, I have NEVER heard of these books. Hmmmm……it always makes think – where have I been? Sounds like I should have run across them at some point.

    Oh well, no time like the present. I’m adding the author and the series to my TBR list for the New Year. I’m already into June if I’m going to read everything I want to. HA!

    • Hello Yvette – I used to read his column ‘J’Accuse’ in The Armchair Detective before I read any of his books, and his Encyclopedia Mysteriosa is a really fun reference guide. If you like Stout then you’ll like DeAndrea and he is definitely worth seeking out, which was not easy in the 80s and early 90s though for me. In the UK I’ve lways had to get imports and it’s possible that only one or two of his books have ever actually been printed here! As for the TBR pile, well, speaking for myself, when you say June, would that be 2012 or …

  2. TomCat says:

    I have not read this particular book, but, from what I understood, it’s not one of his best efforts and probably written when he was becoming ill – and therefore not representative for the usual quality of his excellent novels and stories. I heartily recommend you pick up The HOG Murders, which, IMHO, stands as one of the best mergers between the traditional whodunit and the contemporary serial killer thriller, and Killed on the Ice is a delightful spoof on the snowbound country house mystery with an ingenious, but complex, impossible crime scenario worked into the plot.

    Patrick and me have been beating his drum for nearly year now, but it never ceases the amaze me how obscure he has become – which I can only describe as criminal negligence on the part of today’s reading audience. Idem ditto for the brilliant and now obscure Herbert Resnicow.

    I have reviewed half a dozen of DeAndrea’s books over at my blog, including Killed on the Ice, Murder – All Kinds and the excellent Killed in Fringe Time

    • Hi TomCat, I did in part choose to review this book precisely because you and Patrick hadn’t reviewed it yet and as you’ve both been beating the drum quite successfully I thought it worth finding one you hadn’t done (yet). It is very frustrating when certain authors fall into neglect through no obvious reason other that the whims of publishers or general shifts in reading fashion. For example, I am really enjoying re-reading the Ed McBain novels for instance and plan on completing the whole cycle if I can but I’ve become painfully aware of the fact that these are amongst the least read of my reviews and that for many they are just not different enough from the current crop of police procedurals that have been, and continue to be, so prevalent on TV.

  3. Colin says:

    I’ve never read any of these either. However, I’m a big fan of Rex Stout and the fact you draw a comparison intrigues me. I’ll have to hunt down some of his books.

    • Hi Colin, thanks for the comments. DeAndrea is a good writer and very much in the Stout mould of American individualism – and he was a very active and devoted member of the Wolfe Pack. Hope you can find some of the books, they are well worth the effort.

  4. Pietro says:

    Ho trovato 5 De Andrea oggi, in un piccolo negozio di antiquariato librario che ho trovato qui, per caso. Il proprietario da una settimana circa ha acquistato un blocco di non so quanti Gialli, alcuni anche degli anni ’50, tutti della Mondadori, molti in condizioni ecceollenti, mai aperti o quasi. Ieri ne avevo presi 8, tra cui un Lovesey che non avevo e parecchi June Thomson, un vecchissimo Brahms & Simon (quello con Petrushka), un Quentin del 1959 e un Kelley Roos. Oggi un altro Thomson, 2 McMullen, un Millar che poi ho visto avevo in altra edizione (se vuoi te lo invio assieme agli altri quando avrò raggiunto un discreto numero. A proposito ieri ho trovato un altro Halter), e 5 De Andrea, un autore dimenticato ingiustamente, vista la grande qualità dei suoi romanzi, come sai defunto a soli 44 anni (non so come) e vincitore di ben tre Edgar. Tra i 5 ho beccato il secondo Edgar, The Hog Murders, che sarà il prossimo romanzo che leggerò. Sto finendo un Paul McGuire molto carino , A funeral in Eden. E poi devo continuare un meraviglioso romanzo di F.G.Parke.

    • Mi sa che hai beccato dei bellisimi libri – HOG Murders e’ forse une dei migliore, se non il migliore fuori della sua series su Matt Cobb, un grande omaggio a Rex Stout.

      Sounds like a great haul Pietro – HOG is prhaps the best of DeAndrea’s books outsid of the Cobb series, a great hommage to Rez Stout.

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