Who or What is the Vinyl Detective?
The Vinyl Detective series is a group of books written by Andrew Cartmel. The main character is “loosely” based on the life and hobbies of Andrew himself.
When the Vinyl Detective first had his business cards made up years before the first book takes place. It was because he had a vague notion of spending time digging through crates at record fairs and trawling through charity shops looking for rare and collectible vinyl, something which he does regularly anyway, the plan, was being paid to do so.
No one had ever used his cards until the day that Nevada knocks at his door to request his help. And so, the Vinyl Detective gets his first commission, to find a copy of Easy Come, Easy go by Easy Geary on the Hathor label.
His introduction to Nevada sparks his career as a detective, not only of vinyl but of the stories behind some of the rarest and sort-after vinyl in existence.
This is a good question, he loves the following: Good food, Good coffee, Jazz, His Cats;
And, he has no name.
I hadn’t fully appreciated this last point until I was writing these reviews. I went back to the book to find the first time he is called by his birth name, and wouldn’t you know it, I couldn’t find it. So off to Google I went, and low and behold, he doesn’t have one. Cartmel states in an interview with ‘Music to Eat’ that he hasn’t yet come up with a name but that he likely would have to if the series were ever commissioned for film or TV. It hadn’t occurred to me because it seems natural, he is the protagonist, he is the narrator, so of course, you would rarely hear his name.
Check out this interview with Andrew and the similarities between him and the Vinyl Detective on the Music to Eat website.
Author of The Vinyl Detective Series – Andrew Cartmel
I was introduced to Andrew Cartmel through his work on the Rivers of London graphic novels; a series which, if you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I Love. Andrew is responsible for writing the stories for these graphic novels, along with Ben Aaronovitch, Williamson, and Renner, Sullivan, Guerrero.
His working relationship with Ben goes back years, to a time when they both worked on Dr. Who as scriptwriters. Seeing the two of them together, you can see that they also have a very genuine friendship. Interestingly, in Whispers Underground by Ben Aaronovitch, Peter buys a mint copy of an Easy Geary LP for his dad for Christmas. This is a nod to the Vinyl Detective Series, as Easy Geary does not exist outside of this world.
He also writes regularly for the London Jazz News. A fact which merely adds authenticity to his stories and the subject matter which the series, is based on.
Andrew has also written a couple of books under the title, The Rupert Hood Spy Thrillers, as well as several Dr Who Novels, Novellas and comic books.
The Vinyl Detective Series Book 1 – Written In Dead Wax
Published: May 2016
Formats available: paperback, digital, audio
He is a record collector -a connoisseur of vinyl, hunting out rare and elusive LPs. His business card describes him as the “Vinyl Detective” and some people take this more literally than others. Like the beautiful, mysterious woman who wants to pay him a large sum of money to find a priceless lost recording on behalf of an extremely wealthy, yet shadowy, client. So begins a painful and dangerous odyssey in search of the rarest jazz record of them all…
How I came by Written In Dead Wax and the Vinyl Detective Series
This book really took me by surprise. On the face of it, this is a book about a guy hunting for a record. Thrilling right? Well, you’d be surprised, I was!
A book about a vinyl detective, doesn’t seem exciting, but this book is full of intrigue and action, you will fall in love with the characters within a few sentences of being introduced, and then you will be invested. Once invested, you’ll be hooked.
I usually try not to put spoilers in my reviews as I hate it myself when the reviewer feels the need to introduce that little extra bit of info into their text, that little extra bit that I’d really have liked to find out myself. However, the few spoilers below are integral to my getting across how good this book, and the series that follows, actually is.
In November of 2019, I saw that there was a signing of the new graphic novel “Action at a Distance” at the Forbidden Planet in London. This was a signing by both Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel. I’d seen Andrew’s name before but had never read any of his work. Standing in the queue I decided to change that. I picked up the first book in the series ‘In Dead Wax’ and right there in the queue I began to read. I don’t believe in “celebrity” and the idea of getting something signed which I haven’t read or don’t intend to read just feels wrong. Almost all of the signed books which I have (and I have a lot) were signed in person by the authors whose work I love, and whom I met at the signings.
In the first chapter, the main character’s cat dies. I’m not going to lie, I almost stopped reading at this point, but the way Andrew describes cats really did win me over, and don’t worry, he does get a new cat or two. This reminded me of a talk I attended the previous year with Mark Billingham, in which he mentioned that; as a crime writer, he is allowed to do whatever he wants to a human in his books, but the moment he speaks of harming an animal, his readers are up in arms, he receives letters, he has angry conversations with readers, he has even received death threats. For a man who wrote a book about the Brighton cat killer, this can be quite challenging.
I never appreciated this so much as in the first few pages of Andrew Cartmel’s first book The Vinyl Detective – In Dead Wax.
As I was not only a couple of people away from the front of the queue, I decided to put this feeling to one side and carry on with the signing and I have to say, they were both on great form. So friendly and chatty with everyone who came up and presented them with any number of items to sign. Books from each of them, graphic novels they’d written on, Dr. Who posters and other memorabilia, and they signed it all, no restrictions, no limitations and the spoke to everyone in front of them, with interest in their items and their lives. They are genuinely nice guys.
Written in Dead Wax story
On the train on the way home, I continued to read and I was not disappointed. This story is simple in its essence, but actually really good. There are so many twists and turns, surprises and unusual, elements to this story. A good old fashioned mystery.
It is a long book split into two halves. Why? Because there are two distinct stories within this one book, both surrounding the same characters. If you like there are two distinct cases which the vinyl detective takes on, all be it that they are connected.
I have to say, I am confused by the age of some of the main characters, I feel that this is likely done intentionally by Andrew to make his characters ageless. He does not want you to draw conclusions based on age. Something which sadly, we all do at times.
The story centers around the Vinyl Detective searching for, and ultimately finding, several records, each of which is unique, rare and valuable, but each part of a bigger mystery.
Along the way, The Vinyl Detective meets some very strange and passionate characters, puts himself and his friends live in danger and has a romance or two. This is not the type of detecting I am usually drawn to. As I said, it is a surprising book.
Another thing about this book which is both surprising and interesting is the historical element, sure it is a made-up history, but it adds depth and introduces secondary characters who you care about almost as much as our protagonist and his friends.
I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. The more I say this, the more it sounds insulting to the author, believe me, it is a compliment. When I first picked it up, I didn’t think that the subject matter would interest me.
There are some genuine ‘ laugh out loud’ aspects to the book and at one point, I actually found myself welling up. It is well written with believable characters who you find yourself loving and hating.
This book has even made me reconsider the place of charity shops and jumble sales in my life.
But it is a well written, layered and interesting story, a unique twist on the usual crime novel. For that is what it is, a crime novel.
At first, I wasn’t sure about the two halves approach, but actually it makes much more sense than to separate the story into two books. The two halves are one and the same story.
I went on to recommend this book to a friend of mine, only to find that she had already read it, and the two sequels and was totally in love with the series as I was.
I would highly recommend this book (or audiobook) to anyone who enjoys a good mystery, crime, detective novel.
The Vinyl Detective Series Book 2 – The Run-out Groove
Published: March 2017
Formats available: paperback, digital, audio
When a mint copy of the final album by “Valerian” – England’s great lost rock band of the 1960s – surfaces in a charity shop, all hell breaks loose. Finding this record triggers a chain of events culminating in our hero learning the true fate of the singer Valerian, who died under equivocal circumstances just after – or was it just before? – the abduction of her two-year-old son.
Audiobook version of The Run-out Groove
In the lead up to Christmas, I never have much time to read, but I did not want to wait for my next Vinyl Detective fix. So I downloaded the audiobook. To some, this is cheating. I am not one of those people. I love a good story in any format; book, audiobook, podcast, videogame, film, TV series, I honestly don’t care what the medium is as long as it is a good story.
If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I have a well used Audible account and am addicted to podcasts. I also find that a well-read audiobook can fill in blanks that may have been missed during the initial read of a book.
So I downloaded The Run-Out Groove and started listening. And I was not disappointed this book is full of mystery, conspiracy theory, rock n roll culture, and secrets and lies.
The Run-out Groove story
The very first chapter lays out the overarching mystery of Valerian, her suicide and the missing child.
The adventure for The Vinyl Detective then begins with a birthday present. A birthday present from Nevada to Tinkler, a birthday present which was found, where else, a charity shop.
From there we are introduced to ‘the client’ and a search begins, not for vinyl but for people. The missing child and the person who took him. At first, our protagonists are not keen to take on the case, but a series of events take over and, nudged on by Nevada, The Vinyl Detective takes on the case.
There is a depth of story to this book that I loved.
It appeals to me as it is a classic adventure story where the main characters are pulled along and swept up into an adventure before they really know what is going on.
As the second in a series, this book could easily have fallen short of its predecessor. I am pleased to say that it does not. The mystery of Valerian and the missing child provide a good base for the story.
The Vinyl Detectives’ love of good coffee, good food, and fine wine are developed more throughout this book as are his relationships with Nevada, Tinkler, Clean Head, and Stinky. It is these relationships that provide the relevant depth and keep you reading/listening.
There are also a set of secondary characters, who were around at the time of Valerian’s suicide, who enter the story and give clues to the whereabouts of the missing child.
This mystery really had me guessing. There were several points in this story at which I thought I’d cracked it, but then there was always a new twist or turn which kept me guessing.
The Vinyl Detective Series Book 3 – Victory Disc
Published: April 2018
Formats available: paperback, digital, audio
When one of his cats accidentally discovers a rare Victory Disc, the Vinyl Detective and his girlfriend Nevada are whisked into the world of big band swing music, and a mystery that began during the Second World War.
Hired to track down the rest of the highly sought-after recordings of the Flare Path Orchestra, our hero will discover that the battles of the last world war aren’t over yet. And if all this sounds simple, it’s only because we haven’t mentioned drive-by shootings, murderous neo-Nazis, or that slight case of being buried alive…
As with ‘Written in dead Wax’ the story begins simply with the Vinyl Detective finding a disc (well actually, his cat finds it), a rare disc, and the story begins from there.
Again I listened to this on audiobook.
The Victory Disc story
The story for this one centers around a series of extremely rare records dating back to the second world war. Upon the first description, I was put in mind of the ‘Glenn Miller Band‘ an American swing band that was popular during the Second World War and a group that my dad loved, so I grew up listening to. On vinyl of course. (or was it shellac?). The Vinyl Detective makes the same comparison himself, stating that the Flare Path Orchestra was the British version.
As with anything Second World War based, there is a dark evil lurking beneath, an evil which permeates through the ages and manages to put our heroes at risk in modern times.
His search for these records puts him in contact with many more
I wasn’t looking forward to this one as much as the previous two. Not because I didn’t want more Vinyl Detective, but more because I spent so much of my adolescence studying The World Wars, that anything to do with them immediately turns me off. It is the reason that I haven’t read or watched ‘War Horse’ or ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’.
With that in mind though, I really enjoyed The Victory Disc. Focussing on RAF pilots and the special way in which they operated during the second world war made this far more interesting for me. Actually, in reality, most of the reminiscing was in fact about the people and not the events of the second world war. The diverse characters you meet and the actions they take to protect themselves and those that they love is what gives this story its depth.
The Victory Disc is full of action and drama. It also almost had me in tears when a beloved pet is brutally murdered by an unknown killer, I’d challenge anyone not to be affected by this. The way that it is written by Cartmel is so detailed and shocking that one can’t help but be moved.
The Vinyl Detective Series Book 4 – Flip Back
Published: May 2019
Formats available: paperback, digital, audio
It’s all Tinkler’s fault. If it weren’t for his obsession with the 1970s band Black Dog, none of this would have happened.
The members of Black Dog performed an infamous publicity stunt on Halig Island: they burned a million dollars on an enormous bonfire. But the stunt backfired, splitting the band for good and increasing the value of their final, recalled album tenfold.
The Vinyl Detective and Nevada accept the challenge to hunt a copy down for Tinkler but soon realize that the search is going to be their most dangerous yet. Narrowly avoiding a killing spree, negotiating deranged fans and being pursued by hack celebrity Stinky Stamner, they discover that perhaps all was not as it seemed on Halig Island – and that in the embers of that fire are clues of a motive for murder….
Flip Back Story
This is a story about a very rare vinyl record – what else. When Tinkler decides he “needs” a copy of the final album of Black Dog (the one with the flip-back cover) to win back his ex-girlfriend, the hunt begins to find this rare and expensive album. Simple right?
Nothing is ever simple when The Vinyl Detective is on the hunt. Within a few weeks of the hunt beginning, Stinky Stanmer finds a way to mess things up and ruin any chances they have for finding a copy at a reasonable price.
A run in with some of the band members then almost ends with our hero, and a few other regular characters, being shot down by a masked assailant. Then they end up on the infamous island where the money was burnt all those years ago. It is on this island that secrets are revealed, lives are lost and a demonic pig finds a new home.
I also noticed a subtle nod to The Rivers of London Series by Ben Aaronovitch, when The Vinyl Detective and Tinkler head towards Beverley Brook on their way back to the car.
I loved this one! The story was rich and diverse in characters and settings, the action and suspense was spine-tingling and the characters came complete with quirks and secrets. The secrets are always good in these books. Something so simple on the face of it, a simple fact that was hidden from view, is often the one piece of information which breaks the case and leads The Vinyl Detective to the solution to the puzzle.
The Vinyl Detective Series Book 5 – Low Action
Preorder: 5th August 2020
Formats available: paperback, digital, audio
Semi-retired god of rock guitar and local poseur Erik Make Loud has got himself a new girlfriend. Helene Hilditch – formerly known as Howlin’ Hellbitch – of all-girl punk outfit Blue Tits is a mean guitarist, someone is trying to kill her.
With a rare pressing of the Blue Tits’ first album to find, the Vinyl Detective and Nevada are called in to help. But this time the question is who isn’t a suspect. With a long list of enemies, the people who could want Helene dead includes her ex-bandmates, their former producer turned record label mogul, the TV presenter that Helene got fired – even their old roadie could be in on it. As the killer’s attempts on Helene’s life get more and more ambitious the Vinyl Detective and Nevada are in a race against time to find the killer, before it’s too late.
Pre-order Low Action – book 5 in The Vinyl Detective series here
The Viny Detective Series Review
What I love about this series is that it covers a diverse range of topics; historic Jazz, Rock and Roll, The Second World War, Nazi’s, big bands, demonic pigs, punk-rock bands, and of course hard-core record and vinyl collectors; all brought together by one simple premise, vinyl records and the unending search for the next rare and expensive title.
The way Andrew Cartmel uses history and provides a detailed and believable back-story for each of his characters, as well as each of the individual cases adds such colourful complete picture that you can’t help but believe these stories are based on real-life events. I did actually find myself looking up several of the groups and characters to see if they actually existed, such was the detail of the story Cartmel tells.
The Vinyl Detective Series is great for anyone who loves a good detective story. If a good old fashioned mystery is your thing then this series is for you. But don’t be fooled by the fact that it is based on a format which for some is a “bit oldfashioned”, the series is very up to date and contemporary.
And action, this is a great series for action. I was at a loss to believe that the hunt for a vinyl record could lead to such adventure and such action in a book. But Cartmel finds a way. Within the first couple of chapters of each book, The Vinyl Detective and his friends are put in mortal danger, threatened with guns or knives, locked in rooms soon to be destroyed, or left to die in horrible circumstances by their enemies.
Each new story also features a beloved pet. Of course, there is Turk and Fanny, the two cats who are adopted by The Vinyl Detective in the very first chapter of the series after his faithful cat Dizzy is run over (I almost stopped reading at this point). But with each story comes a new and beloved pet of someone. Each has it’s own personality and is a character in their own right. Some of these beloved pets face untimely deaths, usually at the hand of a bad guy, but some, thankfully, are given new and loving homes and new leases of life.
When it comes to the animals and pets in these stories, it is a mixed bag. One thing that keeps me reading is also to find out the fate of these pets. When introduced to one, you never know which way it will end, much like most of the characters to be fair. Cartmel is not afraid of making the hard choices when it comes to animals or human characters.
Why you won’t be able to wait for the next installment
The Vinyl Detective series is so well written, I find myself wanted to read/listen to the next story, not just because I want to find out what the next story is about but also because, early on, I fell for these characters. I am invested in their lives. When they are in danger, I am worried and anxious for them, when they get a win, I am happy for them. I want to check-in and find out how they are getting on, what has changed in their lives, as well as what new vinyl record they are on the hunt for in this installment.
Has Tinkler got a new girlfriend? What has Stinky Stanmer got up his sleeve this time to stop The Vinyl Detective reach his goal? How is Nervada’s online vintage clothing doing? What penguin classics will Clean-Head find in this installment? How are Turk and Fanny getting on? And of course, what is happening in Nervada and The Vinyl Detectives relationship?