Review: Astrid and the Girl in the Tangerine Dress by Alan Roderick
Alan Roderick is an author who clearly dotes on and loves Gwent, as the titles of some of his previous books amply attest;– The Folklore of Gwent, The Ghosts of Gwent, Haunted Gwent, The Newport Kaleidoscope and The Gwent Anthology.
So it comes as no surprise that the setting for the latest Astrid Price Mystery is…you guessed it…but it’s not the Gwent of now but rather that of the near-future.
Wales is by now a Republic, with its own police force and, by, presidential decree many of the place names have changed, so Newport is officially known as Casnewydd and the same applies to Abertawe, Caerdydd and so on, all of which have shrugged off their old names and the Cardiff Channel has supplanted the Bristol Channel and we have the Welsh Sea in lieu of the Irish while the Usk, with its muddy banks, now flows as the Brown River.
But it’s not just the place-names that have changed.
The currency is now Glyndwrs and Gwynfors, while the country is now defended by the likes of the crack Llywelyn the Last Brigade Special Forces.
As you will have gleaned, Roderick has a lot of fun with all this, his tongue pretty much superglued into his cheek as he cheekily maps out the terrain of this comic novel.
It’s a book which is as daft as a Casnewydd streetsweeper’s bristle-less brush, complete with a heroine who has learned all she knows about being a private investigator from another volume, How to Be a Private Detective, which, one suspects, is not one you’d find on Philip Marlowe’s shelf.
Casnewydd, and the Twin City of Maindee is not-so-successful private investigator Mrs Astrid Price’s turf and in her latest adventure she is trying to locate the eponymous girl in the tangerine dress on behalf of a man duly infatuated with her.
Given little to go on beyond the colour of the dress and the fact that she may have a dog, Astrid sets about her detective work to locate with avidity, if little skill.
She is soon drawn into a world as murky as the waters of the river-formerly-known-as-the-Usk.
Big heart & tranquiliser darts
The disappearance of a Scottish gangster, not to mention some of the fibreglass dragons that have been decorating her home city also attract her attention, leading to encounters with all manner of armed thugs such as Two-Fingered Geraint, Red Iolo and Rassau Tony, plus some who work for the mysterious Mrs Big.
Armed with nothing but a big heart and some tranquillizer darts, Astrid careens from one scrape to another, finding just enough time to briefly kindle the torch of romance with an army man called Pryderi, who, if not out of central casting, walks in straight from the pages of The Mabinogion.
Along the way there are plenty of Welsh gags.
Astrid is blessed with a sweet ‘Welsh unsalted butter wouldn’t melt in my mouth smile,’ while at times when she has to trust to instinct, she can feel things ‘in her Brecon Carreg bottled mineral water,’ a feeling that recurs often enough to make it feel like product placement.
At other times, when that instinct deserts her, she’s almost completely lost:
“And now what? Suddenly, I felt like a combined force of rooks and jackdaws, straight arrowing their way, almost blind, into a dense bank of thick fog in the soon to be darkening evening sky, but nowhere near as clever. Those birds knew where they were going, heading for their winter’s roost, and would get there eventually. As for me…Where was I going?”
There are times when Astrid isn’t at all sure she is going to solve the case as surely as she did ones in the past such as one involving golden love spoons, but she ploughs on regardless, often like a wrecking ball in a china shop, to mangle a metaphor.
But it doesn’t matter as the reader’s happy going along for the ride.
And that ride is in her faithful Pwca, a vehicle that takes the place of the fast cars of other detective fiction, because Astrid isn’t like them, not like them at all.
Ask her friend the talking African Grey parrot, and he’ll tell you.
Astrid and the Girl in a Tangerine Dress is published by Cath Drwg Publishing and is available here
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