My Big Fat Disclaimer: Let's get this out of the way first. In what feels like back before the day, I briefly worked with Edward Oliver Higgins. An experience which, hopefully, informs this review, and not only by my caring to share his little-known middle name to a wider audience.
So, what do I remember about Edward? Well, I recall him saving the day at a pretty downbeat Christmas works do by impersonating a fist-pumping MD, preaching to his rapidly-converted workmates about how our fortunes were going to be transformed in the coming year. After our actual managing director had wimped out with a passive, "Hey guys, I know it's been tough going." You probably won't be overly shocked to learn Ed lasted longer in his job with the company than the MD.
Photograph by Simon Waller
And then there was the time he channelled Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in an invitation to a mutual friend's birthday party. Edward alluded to a Smog-era London, where we'd brave an old, grey peasouper engulfing the capital to meet up at a secret hostelry of a venue. The true destination was a more prosaic Covent Garden chain boozer, but I much preferred Higgins' mythical version.
Higgins, though, has saved his best to latest. Meet Trelawney Hart, "arch-sceptic and former child prodigy". The anti-hero of what you'll be surprised to learn is the author's debut, Conversations with Spirits, a mystery without a murder, where who dun it is less a question than how they did it.
And what's this? Only "the Doyle", as Alan Partridge famously referred to the great man, appearing as a leading character. For, as the faux foreword transports the reader back to "London, December 1917", "being a reprint of MR. TRELAWNEY HART's report on the 'Broadstairs Miracle' to Sir ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE, author and member of the Society for Psychical Research."
Photograph by Simon Waller
We're further sent hurtling rearward to First-World-War London by the employment of the Caslon typeface. William Caslon was a gunsmith and typeface designer who came up with this type in 1720. Revived in the 1840s, it remained the typeface of choice for the discerning publishing house in the early 20th century.
There's no need for a spoiler alert when I reveal much of the action takes place in Kent, something which you will probably have worked out for yourselves given the earlier Broadstairs reference. I'm not betraying much of the plot either by revealing the spirits of the title also refers to the liqueurs quaffed by the hard-drinking Hart. He has a penchant for cherry brandy and I like to claim some credit for assisting Edward in his research here. We were fond of sampling a boozer's top-shelf treasures, after all.
Those of an older generation will always insist they remember exactly they were on the day JFK lost his life at the hands of whoever you choose to believe. The younger Higgins, however, can claim to know his whereabouts on the 31st October, 1992. Sitting in front of a telly showing BBC's Ghostwatch. And, one suspects, he wasn't as spooked as the rest of us.
The paperback version of Conversations with Spirits came out on 13th March 2014. I received my hardback version as a Christmas present. And, as I announced on my Facebook author page at the time, it was all I ever wanted.