Kingsley Amis’ The Crime Of The Century

The Crime of the CenturyI’m not sure how well-known Kingsley Amis is on this side of the Atlantic, particularly among my generation. His son Martin has achieved a much wider recognition in America, though his star is still highest in Britain. Both father and son are primarily comic writers, which perhaps goes a long way towards explaining their relative anonymity in America, comic sensibilities varying as they do between nations. The Crime of the Century was an odd choice for a first foray into Amis Sr.’s work, a detective novel written by a comic writer, but the 25 cent price  tag at a local used book store made it too tempting to pass over.

Why exactly a comic writer would try his hand at writing crime fiction merits an explanation, which turns out, as usual, to be money, or rather the lack of it. Approached by The Sunday Times to write a serialized detective story, and thinking primarily of his “snarling” bank manager, Amis set to work.

The resulting novel is well-written, even, at times, entertaining, but not a particularly shining example of crime fiction. The work is too short, the characters too many, and the motivations of the killer too obscure to incite much more than a yawn. The lack of a central protagonist gives the reader no focal point from which to pass judgments on the unfolding drama, and therefore no incentive to invest in any particular character’s fate. Ultimately, this is a novel transparently written under the pressures of a deadline, its merits overshadowed by its faulty plotting and brevity.