Andrew Garve Essay - Critical Essays

Paul Winterton


The distinguishing mark of Andrew Garve’s fiction is its variety. Some of his novels are tales of high adventure with no crime and no real detection. Some are inverted mysteries, told in the first person by a narrator who turns out to be the criminal. Many involve police officers, but not all of these are police procedurals strictly speaking. While many of Garve’s novels are not classic mysteries, he proved himself quite adept at the genre. Frame-Up (1964), for example, which concerns an artist’s murder and the work of the police in unraveling the crime, is a pure representative of the classic detective story, and has been praised by a number of critics as a flawless specimen of the grand old form. Most of his novels, however, include elements of several plot types, woven together in masterful fashion. With the exception of the short-lived Inspector James and Hugh Curtis series, each of his books stands alone, and even in the three Curtis books there is little carryover beyond the identity of the protagonist.

The settings of Garve’s novels are quite as varied as his forms, ranging from London and provincial England to Russia, the Scilly Isles, Africa, Australia, France, the Baltic Sea, the West Indies, Palestine, and the Gulf of Finland. Some of these areas are well known to him through his travels, while in other cases he has relied at least in part on research. Whatever their source, his descriptions are always persuasive and evocative.

In addition to descriptions of exotic locales, Garve’s novels often feature informative disquisitions on nautical lore, mountaineering, archaeology, finance, and other favorite topics. Garve is particularly fond of and knowledgeable about the sea, and many of his books reflect that lifelong attachment. In The Sea Monks (1963), vicious young thugs invade a lighthouse and are pitted against its keepers while a hurricane rages outside. A Hero for Leanda (1959) affords greater opportunity for the author to display his knowledge of sailing, with the introduction of a central character who wins his lady by virtue of his navigational expertise. Inland rivers and canals in England also provide settings for Garve novels. The Narrow Search (1957) is the story of a father who kidnaps his daughter from his estranged wife and the new man she has found. The couple’s search through the waterways for the missing child is compellingly told, with the drama of the narrative complemented by the unusual setting.

The Riddle of Samson

Despite the variety of his settings and types of plot, Garve’s fiction is strongly formulaic. His novel The Riddle of Samson (1954) provides an excellent introduction to his work; it is typical not only of Garve’s novels but also of the mystery and detective genre as a whole in its reliance on prefabricated materials.

Like many mystery novels, The Riddle of Samson offers readers a literary allusion in its title. Samson is one of the Scilly Isles, where the story...

(The entire section is 1242 words.)