THE MONUMENT & THE MARMOT MURDERS
Title: The Monument / The Marmot Murders
Author: Julian Hutchings
Publisher: Rock the Ground Productions
Date: 8/6/19 / 13/7/19
Pages: 115 / 107
ISBN: 9781072832300 / 9781080184309
Price: £3.35 / £2.95
Reviewed by: Richard Peploe
Julian Hutchings has produced these two short novels, one a crime story and the other a murder mystery, with a regular cycling holiday at the centre of both. You would be happy to have the same cycling experiences on any trip, but much less happy (and indeed less likely) to come across the illegal activities that create the necessary drama.
You won’t find many cycling-based works of fiction on the bookshelves, but here are two by Julian Hutchings – joining several others from him that have already been published. Hutchings is one of those stalwarts who is instrumental in making the British club cycling scene function, as you might gather from the number of roles that he performs at his cycling club, the Old Portilians.
Now that he is retired, he has more time to spend on his passion for writing, drawing on his long-term involvement in cycling as the basis for much of his work; publications range from short stories, through ‘novellas’ such as these, to full-length novels .
Another important ingredient in allowing Hutchings to be so prolific is the support that Amazon can give to self-publishers, including the ‘print on demand’ service and the Kindle option. The downside is that those who object to supporting Amazon in any way will struggle to access these books.
I hope we can assume that not everything Hutchings writes about is actually based on real cycling experiences, otherwise (as will become apparent) there wouldn’t be many club members wanting to participate in any of the Old Portilians’ events.
First up for review is ‘The Monument’ , in which “Clovis and Eric head to Belgium to ride the Liège-Bastogne-Liège cycling sportive.” The whole trip is full of the sort of banter and discussions that you can witness around any group of cyclists: it is wholly realistic, and could only have come from someone who has had similar experiences.
Things became slightly less realistic when our two protagonists agree to undertake some sort of dodgy work as a ‘delivery driver’ when approached by a stranger, for which they would be paid £5,000 each. They would continue with their weekend trip for the LBL event as normal, but exchange bikes while there and travel back with different machines on the back of the car. Obviously, things don’t go quite according to plan.
It all makes for a good crime story, and much of the detail will be familiar and credible to regular cyclists everywhere – except for the agreement to become involved in an unspecified crime, presumably. And the one-night stand that materialises, perhaps.
The book’s cover asks the question: “who are the mysterious people who suck them into a crime and what exactly is the crime they have been sucked into?” Unfortunately, we are none the wiser at the end, which I found a bit frustrating – but it still makes for good reading.
Next up is ‘The Marmot Murders’ , which as the title suggests involves murder, in which the company at the centre of the trip (‘Marmot Tours’) is real. Hutchings has clearly enjoyed his excursions with them, so he is at pains to point out that “nothing unpleasant or remotely similar to the event described in this story has ever happened to me on a Marmot Tours holiday.”
The first murder arrives before a pedal has been turned, courtesy of “a light blue-handled Park Tool 5mm allen key”, and starts a sequence of improbable events. Instead of consternation in the group and the police being called, they sit down to dinner and plan to carry on with the holiday as if nothing had happened. They even have a debate as to whether 5mm was the right size to use!
Hutchings surely missed an opportunity to make the situation even more surreal: he could have had one of the group point out that Park Tool don’t even call them allen keys (it being a registered trademark), preferring the term hex wrenches.
Once again, the descriptions of the cycling on each trip could only have come from someone who has been there and done it, making that side of the story feel authentic for any cyclist. However, with each subsequent murder the story becomes more improbable, even for a murder mystery, and into the realms of farce – and as long as you take it in that spirit it is an entertaining read, with an activity that you can relate to at its core.
In this case the book’s cover asks the question: “who is doing the killing and why?” This time we are given the answers - because everyone admits to a murder, in the best tradition of farce.
Since I received these two books for review, Hutchings has produced yet another short novel : perhaps he is trying to single-handedly double the amount of cycle-based fiction available.