cover image Felix in the Underworld

Felix in the Underworld

John Clifford Mortimer / Author Viking Books $22.95 (256p) ISB

Neither a Rumpole story nor one of Mortimer's broader canvases (like Paradise Postponed or Dunster), this is a neat murder mystery with literary (or at least publishing) overtones and an endearing central character. He is Felix Morsom, a British novelist who once made the Booker shortlist and whose sad little tales about people in a quiet, decaying English seaside town have earned him a comfortable living. Felix yearns hopelessly for his hip publicist, Brenda Bodkin, but otherwise enjoys an undemanding life--until the day he receives a mysterious tape at a book signing and a woman he once knew, Miriam Bowker, sues him for support of her 11-year-old son. A friend of Miriam's, Gavin, threatens Felix, who threatens him back; when Gavin is found murdered, Felix becomes a suspect. Soon, he is on the run among London's down-and-outs (in some beautifully observed scenes), but too trusting and naive to escape arrest for long, he is soon in jail. Acquiring a feckless legal team (presented with all of lawyer Mortimer's formidable satirical skills) Felix seems doomed to a long sentence until Brenda gallantly takes up his cause. The mystery, though skilfully resolved, is really only a device on which to hang the touching study of Felix and his world--a world, incidentally, that affords enough wry observation of the publishing scene to make the tale irresistible to anyone in the book business. (Nov.)