Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective by Leslie Thomas


This is a strange book about a strange policeman, but in the end I liked it very much. I was motivated to read the book because I was about to begin watching the TV series based on the Dangerous Davies books. Serendipitously,  I ran into the book at my local independent bookstore at just the right time.

This is the first chapter of the book:
This is the story of a man who became deeply concerned with the unsolved murder of a young girl, committed twenty-five years before. 
He was a drunk, lost, laughed at and frequently baffled; poor attributes for a detective. But he was patient too, and dogged. He was called Dangerous Davies (because he was said to be harmless) and was known in the London police as “The Last Detective” since he was never dispatched on any assignment unless it was very risky or there was no one else to send.

Dangerous Davies: The Last Detective was published in 1976 and set at that time. Davies is assigned the case of finding Cecil Ramscar, a criminal who had escaped the country, living in Australia and America at times, but is now back in his old stomping grounds. It isn't a big case, they just want to find Ramscar and keep an eye on him, so Davies does not take the assignment too seriously. But he discovers an unsolved case from twenty five years earlier that is mentioned in the file on Ramscar and he gets very serious about tracking down the truth behind the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl, Celia Norris

Davies is an alcoholic, and a real bumbling detective. He pursues the cold case doggedly, but a lot of what gets done happens accidentally. I was wary of reading a book about a detective who succeeds in spite of himself, but overall it worked for me. I think the key is that Davies is a genuinely kind and generous person. People may laugh at him, but he gains trust from people easily, which helps in gathering information. It is very believable in the end that with his determination, persistence, and decency, he does solve the case.

A description in the book:
Davies, a long man, thirty-three years old, inhabited his tall brown overcoat for the entire London winter and well into the spring. By the first frosts he was resident again. 
He was to be seen at the wheel of his 1937 Lagonda Tourer, forever open and exposed to the weather, the hood having been jammed like a fixed backward grin since 1940.
This is a humorous novel with some very colorful characters; Davies lives in a boarding house, where his best friend Mod also has a room. His wife also lives there but they are in different rooms. As far as I can remember this is never explained and there seems to be little affection between them. Davies' dog is large, old and cranky, and lives in the back seat of his car. But the best characterizations are those of Celia Norris's family and the various witnesses from the cold case who are interviewed by Davies.

After reading the book, I did watch the pilot for The Last Detective, the TV series starring Peter Davison as Dangerous Davies. The TV series was first run in 2003,  and it brings Dangerous Davies into the 21st century. The detective is still bumbling and not very competent as a policeman, but his flaws are not so evident as in the book. And the dog doesn't live in the car. The pilot episode is based on this book. The plot is very similar, although with some changes to the solution (which I approve of because it makes it more interesting to watch).  I plan to continue watching the series.

Please see Sergio's excellent post on both the book and the TV series at Tipping My Fedora.

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Publisher:   Felony & Mayhem, 2011 (orig. pub. 1976)
Length:      272 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Series:       Dangerous Davies #1
Setting:      UK
Genre:       Police procedural (loosely)
Source:      I purchased my copy.

18 comments:

  1. TracyK: An interesting premise but I do not think I will go looking for Dangerous Davies. I am finding it harder to suspend disbelief in my reading. A successful bumbling detective is probably too big a stretch for me.

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    1. I am experiencing the opposite, Bill, I am finding it easier to suspend disbelief in my reading. I probably overstated the bumbling aspect, but I did want to be clear about what type of book this is. Fortunately nowadays there are plenty of good series to read.

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  2. I love a bumbling detective!
    Columbo was wonderfully spontaneous, bumbling and always looked baffled by a crime scene and suspects.
    Yet one thing is sure...meticulously mind was at work!
    Thanks for info book AND series!

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    1. In some ways this detective is like Columbo, Nancy, in that people usually underestimate him. It will be interesting to see if later "episodes" of the books and the TV series retain the same charm.

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  3. When I first tried the series, I was dismayed by how badly he was treated by the other police, but then years later I watched all of the shows, and felt okay about the treatment because he really does prove himself as a good detective. The dog is a wonderful character, as is Mod. I don't believe he is an alcoholic in the television version, and of course Peter Davison is excellent, as always.

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    1. It is appalling how rudely he is treated by his boss and co-workers, Nan. At least in this book and the pilot. Peter Davison is probably a big factor in my enjoyment of the TV episode.

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  4. It's really hard to pull off a story where the detective is both bumbling and ultimately successful, Tracy. So I can see why you'd have some concerns about this one. Still, it sounds as though Thomas succeeded, as far as you're concerned. And I do like stories that weave past and present cases together. Glad you enjoyed this.

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    1. Margot, I noticed when I scanned the book for this review how the story reads very seriously when he is working on the case, and the more humorous bits are in between. The style was very interesting. And I enjoyed the cold case a lot. Partly, I think, because it went back to 1951, an interesting time.

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  5. I really like that title. Sounds like the character is similar to My Cousin Vinny where he seems to be doing everything wrong but he is actually doing it right but it just takes him longer to do it? I don't mind those. Good review. --Keishon

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    1. That is very interesting, Keishon. I have never seen My Cousin Vinny and wasn't really interested, but now I am curious and will give it a try.

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  6. Oooh, I've never heard of this, Tracy, sounds like something I'd like. Thanks for the intro. I'll have to see if I can find the television series online. Never heard of that either. :)

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    1. I think you would like both the book and the TV series, Yvette. I haven't seen enough of the TV series to say for sure but I think I am going to enjoy it.

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  7. Fascinating. Great title and detective name. Seems like maybe a cross between Columbo and Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder. I'm going to give him a try!

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    1. Now you have inspired me to get back to reading some of the Matthew Scudder books, Mathew.

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  8. I can vaguely remember the TV series, mainly because of Peter Davison. I doubt I shall seek the books out. Will you be looking for more?

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    1. I would like to read more of them, Col, but for the time being I won't be seeking them out. Too many other books.

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  9. I thought I'd commented on this but apparently not! I read this a long time ago and loved it, but never saw the TV series. You have re-awakened my interest.
    And. I'm seconding My Cousin Vinny - it's one of my top 10 ever films, one to enjoy when you need something easy and enjoyable. (Along with Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Hard Way, three great crime investigations.)

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    1. Moira, I do want to watch My Cousin Vinny soon. Glad you reminded me. I had never been interested before, but I do like the actors ... I think I did not like the idea of the setting when it came out, but maybe that won't be so bad.

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