What were the chances of meeting both a live Dodo AND a live Richard John Bingham (the notorious 7th Lord Lucanl) in 1975?
The way Michael Horsnell tells it, it could just have happened. And if you read his hilarious black comedy of a novel, you might just be in two minds.
It concerns the extraordinary adventures of Brooke Beever, one of Fleet Street's finest (if that's not an oxymoron) - a senior reporter on a red-top newspaper called the Daily Packet. The Guardian it's not. But he's decent enough chap, and very sadly, his attractive ex-stripper girlfriend, Fanny Lock is the first victim of the so-called Strawberry Tart Murders "that gripped Fleet Street" in the mid-70s. (As one who was working in Fleet Street then, I was un-gripped at the time - perhaps because our crime reporter failed to mention them to me.)
Even in his moment of extreme anguish at the discovery of his girlfriend's body, Beever - unable to resist a good headline - almost involuntarily comes up with "Barmaid Killer Leaves Strawberry Tart Calling Card on Body".
Fanny had been head barmaid at The Boot, a dingy pub where Beever sometimes drank. And we learn: "She had single-handedly raised a family of young offenders, fathered by as many different felons in the eastern suburbs of the capital".
Beever is initially one of the principle suspects. Indeed, the objectionable, irascible cockney policeman leading the investigation into Fanny's death, Det. Chief Insp. Arthur Tickett, is convinced he did it. As indeed is Fanny's psychopathic son, Binyamin
Tickett has a particularly annoying habit of peppering his conversation with back-slang, accusing Beever of punching Fanny "on the Irish Rose" and strangling her. "Broken Gregory Peck" he adds later. But eventually he relents a little, saying Beever might have been telling the "Babe Ruth".
Surreal scenes erupt when "all hell broke out" among the various characters at Fanny Lock's funeral
Indeed, Horsnell - a former veteran Times reporter - tells us the Guinness Book of Records might well have been prepared to create a record for the most living people to occupy a grave in an English churchyard.
"The psychopath, his knife aimed at the back of (Beever's) neck, took the full force of a shoulder barge from the Irishman (Beever's colleague Doc Doherty) of which the great Nat Lofthouse would have been proud. Binyamin flew over the prostrate Beever. He crashed onto the lid of his mother's coffin, losing his grip on the flick-knife..."
"Doherty lost his balance during the heroic rescue of his friend, the momentum taking him over the edge of the grave. He landed on top of Binyamin, temporarily winding himself. The assassin, pinned by the sixteen-stone bulk of his attacker, tried to teach for the knife.
"A policeman guarding James Lock (a major suspect) abandoned his task and leaped into the grave in order to prevent Binyamin from retrieving the weapon. James consequently spotted an opportunity to elbow the other officer guarding him hard in the solar plexus. The man toppled forward and fell in, inadvertently catching the Rev Beever (the senior reporter's father) at the back of his knees. The clergyman flailed at thin air and fell on top of both officers, losing his grip on his umbrella in the process."
At this stage Binyamin's two equally unpleasant brothers Wayne and Eddie wade into the action, attacking all four police officers involved in the graveyard free-for-all. But the most joyful ending to the melee was about to come into play.
None of the deeply dislikeable brothers had taken the elderly church organist Liam Lacy into account. "He was apparently frail and inconsequential" says Horsnell. "What no-one knew, however, was that he was a fencing gold-medallist for Ireland at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Old Liam hadn't picked up an epee in anger since the war. He didn't have one with him, of course, but there, waiting for him, like Excalibur, was the rev Beever's foiled umbrella."
You can guess the rest. "Errol Flynn would have been impressed as Liam swashed his buckle."
What you can't guess without reading the book is what happens when Beever ends up in Mauritius in the most delightful and intriguing of circumstances - even though two of his major foes somehow end up there with him. But not for long. As for the Dodos - there's a strong clue about them on the back cover of the book, which tells the reader: "Beever's journey to salvation takes him, via Paris and Mauritius to a rocky outcrop in the Indian Ocean where he eventually find true love, possibly encounters fellow fugitive Lord Lucan - and discovers a thriving community of extinct birds." Like you do.
Michael Horsnell's Day of the Dodo is published by Salford City Press www.salfordcitypress.com at £9.99 and is also available on Amazon.
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