BOOK REVIEW / Thuggery with cads: 'The Closed Circle' - Robert Goddard: Bantam, 14.99 pounds

I SEEM to remember reading somewhere that Robert Goddard is John Major's favourite crime novelist. Certainly one of the jacket quotations in praise of previous books, though credited only to the Evening Standard, has that authentic Downing Street tone: 'Takes the reader on a journey from which he knows he will not deviate until the final destination is reached'. Oh yeah. Still, as Jeffrey Archer well knows, it's not fair to hold a writer responsible for his fans, and just as Trollope has risen above the dead hand of our leader's enthusiasm so, presumably, will Goddard.

He certainly knows how to spin a yarn. It is 1921, and two English conmen, Guy Horton and Max Wingate, are travelling back to Blighty on board the Empress of Britain, first class of course. It has seemed politic to leave New York ahead of a potentially embarrassing fraud trial. Max and Guy have been partners in crime since Winchester , and a long sea voyage can usually be relied upon to provide entertainment. Imagine their delight, therefore, when they happen on a major opportunity in the hefty shape of Miss Vita Charnwood and her enticing niece, Diana, only daughter of the mysterious international financier Fabian Charnwood.

Pausing only to sign mutual promises to share the proceeds, Max and Guy both make their pitch for the lovely Diana, and may the best man win and be lucratively bought off by the outraged father. (It worked in Le Touquet in 1924, with the daughter of sewing machine magnate Sir Antony Toogood, so no reason why it shouldn't work again.)

Max spoils the plot, however, by actually falling in love with Diana, much to Guy's disgust. Still, Fabian Charnwood plays the part of outraged father to perfection, and hints that he's not just any old international financier by subverting Guy and paying him to provide advance warning of the elopement. On the chosen night there is a fracas in the woods, after which Guy comes across the grieving Diana and Vita, and the corpse of Charnwood, his head comprehensively bashed in. The finger of suspicion can only point in one direction; Max confirms everyone's suspicions by legging it, hotly pursued by the charmless but astute Chief Inspector Kornby (Dublo Seven, no doubt.)

And all this is just the opening 60 pages or so. What ensues is a splendidly old-fashioned affair, full of thuggery and skulduggery, cross and double-cross, plot and counter-plot. There are mysterious Slavs and gimlet-eyed Germans, weasely little fixers (a walk-on part for Maundy Gregory) and large-scale manipulators of millions of puppets on the world stage. There is even an opportunity for Lord Gray of Falloden to reveal just how much world-weariness there was behind his famous bon mot about the lamps going out all over Europe. The pace is unrelenting, the plot is full of surprises. I read it at a sitting.

Notwithstanding the blurb's arch reference to 'strange echoes of more recent times', Goddard is no postmodern smartipants, bringing a galumphing dose of 20:20 hindsight to his tale. He is the direct descendant of such spinners of international paranoia as Erskine Childers (author of The Riddle of the Sands), John Buchan and, more recently, Geoffrey Household. You could say, I suppose, that Guy Horton, being a first-class bounder, is no Richard Hannay, and one can hardly imagine the latter allowing a woman, even one as splendid as Diana Charnwood, to apply his hand to her breast, an act which leads to a hardened nipple and thence to an energetic bout of squidginess. But the way that Guy hares about in all weathers by train and motor car is nothing if not Hannayesque, and he proves to be, if not a good egg, then certainly a curate's egg.

It's possible perhaps to make too much of the fact that President Clinton's favourite crime writer is the throughly hip Walter Mosley, though you wouldn't call Robert Goddard hip. I found the only other Goddard I've read a rather dull affair, but this is in a different class altogether; I haven't read anything like it since I was at school. I just hope the PM can take the excitement.

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

    Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

    His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
    'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

    Open letter to David Cameron

    Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
    Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

    You don't say!

    Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
    Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

    So what is Mubi?

    Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
    The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

    The hardest job in theatre?

    How to follow Kevin Spacey
    Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

    Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

    To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
    Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

    'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

    The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
    Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

    This human tragedy has been brewing for years

    EU states can't say they were not warned
    Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

    Women's sportswear

    From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
    Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

    Clinton's clothes

    Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders