I found it challenging at first to warm to The Big Keep, whose main character, Maths teacher Neil Mackenzie, fancies himself as a modern-day equivalent of a wise-cracking, hard-drinking Philip Marlowe.
Although Mackenzie is the divorced father of two daughters teaching at a Kent girls’ school, eyebrows were raised at how close he was becoming to a former pupil of 18 or 19 – nearly 20 years his junior. There was also a shocking headbutting incident in the early chapters which hardly improved our hero’s reputation in the readers’ eyes.
However, I need not have worried. This book is a classic example of a novel that improves vastly as it goes along.
Once you’ve assimilated the writer’s somewhat jokey style, it quickly morphs into an entertaining caper with fascinating characters, witty dialogue and an intriguing plot centred on a break-in at a luxury hotel.
Crime novel or contemporary fiction?
I felt it was not so much a crime novel as a work of contemporary fiction, highlighting the relationships between Mackenzie and the characters he encounters: teenage girls, badminton players, fellow teachers and women in general.
But soon I got used to the writer’s down-to-earth, light-hearted writing style.
Although he touches on the break-in at the very start, there’s mounting excitement as, further into the book, further details emerge of the burglary, along with its aftermath.
It was hard to stop turning the pages as, with a humorous but delicate touch, the writer handles romance, sex scenes, tension, banter and human friendship. In the end, I felt it was a rollicking good read!