Peter Dickinson has turned in a highly original first performance. The ants' nest of the title is a tribe of New Guinea aborigines transported more or less intact to London where their chief is murdered. Their observer and investigator, Superintendent Pibble of Scotland Yard, is a man of refreshing intelligence. Mr. Dickinson's anthropological invention and sociological wit, his humanness persisting stubbornly in the teeth of our instantaneous McLuhan world, give his novel real distinction.I have a hard time reviewing books by Peter Dickinson. I love his writing so much that I tend not to see any flaws. This book is very strange. The story is bizarre and the writing is playful. The characters are far from normal. But not all of his books are this strange, so if you don't find something to like here, try another of his mysteries.
I did not realize it until I read it in a review, but all of the story takes place in one day. Sort of like one of the CSI episodes where they have the crime solved in one shift. Except this is much more fun and less bloody. I guess if you are as focused as Jimmy Pibble you can do it all in one day.
The events leading up to the relocation of the tribe to London occurred during World War II, when all other members of the tribe were killed by the Japanese. Brief flashbacks to that time in World War II to explain current relationships are also included. Even though they were not a large part of the story, and the mystery is definitely rooted in the present situation, I did enjoy that part of the story a great deal.
However my favorite aspect of this book is Jimmy Pibble. He deals with an unusual and trying situation admirably. He is respectful of all the people he interviews, and he is open to new ways of looking at things. A wonderful character.
Peter Dickinson is the author of childrens books and young adult fantasy books, but this book is not a fantasy. Dickinson uses a lot of imagination in setting up this tribe in a London building and developing the characters of the tribe members and the Londoners who live around them, but there is nothing supernatural about the story. It is original and very different, but still a good detective story with clues and a solution that makes sense.
The Glass-Sided Ants' Nest was Dickinson's first adult novel, and it won the Gold Dagger award for 1968. The second book in the Jimmy Pibble series (A Pride of Heroes in the UK, The Old English Peep Show in the US), published the next year, also won the Gold Dagger award.
Please see John's detailed review at Pretty Sinister Books.
Many of Dickinson's novels are available as e-books at Open Road Integrated Media.
And if you prefer print copies, as I do, you can get this book, The Old English Peep Show, Sleep and his Brother, and King and Joker at Felony and Mayhem.
Publisher: International Polygonics, 1991 (orig. pub. 1968)
Length: 186 pages
Format: Trade paperback
Series: James Pibble #1
Genre: Police procedural
Source: I purchased my copy.