Landscape With Dead Dons by Robert Robinson

IMG_1521Robert Robinson is remembered now by people of a certain age (i.e. me) as the presenter of middlebrow TV quiz shows such as Call My Bluff and Ask The Family (the latter of which, as an aside, had the most extraordinary theme tune; whatever genius came up with the sitars clearly didn’t give a stuff about focus groups). Anyway, Robinson had a dry wit, which was not unkind but not too avuncular either, and he was possessed of one of the great combovers in British popular culture, rivalling Bobby Charlton’s. His verbal tics were delightful or irritating, depending on your taste (‘Bah! Would that it were!’) and he was easily lampooned. Before the lure of the idiot’s lantern became too great, Robinson wrote a detective novel: Landscape With Dead Dons. It’s a shame that his verbal sparring with Frank Muir et al took precedence following this, because it reads like an eccentric episode of Inspector Morse (pre-dating Colin Dexter’s series, of course) and is every bit as good as that sounds. There is the clever detective with only a surname (Autumn in this case) and an Oxford college in which there are Strange Goings On. One of the academics is knifed in the back and propped up among the statues on the roof – a pleasing touch. As the title suggests, there might be more than one murder. Also as it suggests, this is a playful novel. Sprightly and wry, my copy is a lurid yellow 1982 reissue which rejoices in this cover line: ‘A NOVEL FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1956 BY AN AUTHOR WHO HAS SINCE BECOME VERY WELL KNOWN IN OTHER FIELDS’. The Gollancz press office clearly worked overtime on that one. Back to the plot: Inspector Autumn wants to find out who the killer is – but before that he needs to work out what he is killing for. Some of the herrings are painted bright scarlet but the discovery of a new Chaucer manuscript might mean something. There’s some mass naked tomfoolery at the end, which would make televising this a stretch in the cosy ITV Sunday night slot, but then even dating shows don’t seem to require clothes now, so the possibility must be there.





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