A year ago, I (along with many other readers) was introduced to The Vinyl Detective. An updated take on the private dick genre paired with the eccentric world of record collecting, author Andrew Cartmel gave us a summer read that both shocked and delighted. It was an interesting take on mystery fiction about a man tasked to find an extremely rare record. It just so happened that others were also looking for the record and were wiling to kill for it. I was so refreshed with this genre bending tale that I was immediately ready to read another one. I didn’t have to wait too long for the second book in the series, The Run-Out Groove.
Taking place shortly after Written in Dead Wax (the first novel), The Run-Out Groove re-introduces us to the Vinyl Detective and his supporting cast. His now girlfriend Nevada and best mate Tinkler return for another caper. The crew have kind of become a Scooby gang and set out to solve this latest mystery as a team. This time, Cartmel adds a new wrinkle to the formula as the search is not just for a missing record but a missing person. Specifically, the long lost child of the lead singer of Valerian, a popular rock group from the 60s.
The Vinyl Detective is tasked with not only solving the boy’s abduction but also uncovering answers in regards to the events surrounding the singer’s suicide. Just as before, there are others who are trying to keep this information secret. The Vinyl Detective and his crew face certain death on more than one occasion. Drugs, grave-robbing and a hidden message are also factors in cracking the case.
With the second book of any series, there are advantages and disadvantages. While you’re already working with an established world and cast of characters, there is also the need to deliver something different from the first book. You don’t want to make a clone of your previous work. At the same time, there needs to be familiarity in the way the protagonist goes about solving the case. It’s a delicate balance between new and old that’s necessary to hook the reader.
Cartmel delivers on this as the characters feel genuine but the story takes different turns from the first novel. We get to see these characters come together as a team in ways they didn’t the first go round. Side characters like Clean Head and Stinky Stanmer also make returns that are satisfying and accentuate the plot. It’s an easy world for a reader to immerse themselves in.
While the plot differs from Written in Dead Wax, it does lack a bit of the mysteriousness that the first book exploited so well. As the Vinyl Detective now has more allies than previously, there’s less urgency within the story. The times that our hero is put in danger just don’t seem as deadly this time around. The moments of conflict feel more cut and dry. It’s almost as if the plot plays more of a backdrop for the characters instead of the driving action. But what the novel lacks in suspense, it makes up for in strong characters and well timed humour.
Even though the second installment was not as gripping as the first, it’s still a great piece of detective fiction with characters that feel authentic. I recommend it to fans of the first novel as well as fans of quirky detective stories. The Vinyl Detective: The Run-Out Groove is now available from Titan Books.
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