The notion of Raymond Chandler’s mean Los Angeles streets being translated to Aberystwyth seems far-fetched, but Malcolm Pryce’s Aberystwyth is not the small seaside town that some of us know.
Instead, it is more like a part of a Wales from an alternative history, where the druids are a mafia-like organisation, where religion – extreme chapel – still holds sway, where women still wear stovepipe hats, and where Wales lost control of Patagonia in a disastrous colonial war in the mid-1960s. The plots tick over relentlessly, and the private eye, Louie Knight – like other PIs, from Philip Marlowe to Harry Moseby – is usually several steps behind the action. The body count is high and the writing often hilarious.
Instead of magical realism, this is more like magical noir. The clue may lie in the author’s biography, which may be true: Pryce, brought up in Shrewsbury and Aberystwyth, has lived and worked abroad since the early 1990s, and currently lives in Bangkok. His Wales is the parts distilled through a haze of memory.
The fourth in the series, Don’t Cry For Me Aberystwyth, connects Adolf Eichmann to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, without leaving the town – or at least the immediate area. The first, Aberystwyth Mon Amour, is probably the most ‘Welsh’ of the books, and culminates in a parody of the dambusters’ raid over a Welsh reservoir. And I promise that knowing this about the plot will not be a spoiler.