Mr Boyd is a consummate storyteller, cleverly knitting together four essential strands, namely Plot, Character, Narrative and Pace, and, adding to that, sharp, witty Dialogue and Descriptive Prose, and you have a novel worth reading. Another element has crept back into his writing canon, and that is humour. Early books like Stars and Bars and Armadillo had a wry slant on human behaviour, but his last few books have been quite ‘grown-up’ in their seriousness, and there was little levity in Love is Blind, Sweet Caress and Waiting for Sunrise. Plenty of love and grinding passion, menace and intrigue, but little in the humour section. Trio does it in spades. Although Boyd’s characters are not nearly so vicious as Graham Greene’s low-life in his version of 1930s Brighton, he has amassed a collection of ne’er-do-wells, scallywags, chancers, egotists, fraudsters, out-and-out crooks, pornographers, an untrustworthy business partner, adulterers and more drunks than you could shake a swizzle-stick at. The whole book seems to have been fuelled by a tsunami of booze, and, in the case of the American actress Anny Viklund, drugs. She is in Brighton making a somewhat pretentious ‘Swinging Sixties’ film Ladder to the Moon, about an actress making a film in Brighton, who falls in love with her driver co-star, Troy. Efrida Wing is a dipso writer with a ten-year block, who hopes copious amounts of gin and vodka will unclog the flow. She is married to Reggie Tipton, the director, who wants to be referred to as ‘Rodrigo’, more in keeping with the stream of Italian and Spanish auteurs from across the Channel. He has trouble keeping it in his pants, particularly on a film-set, something Elfrida suspects, but tolerates, sinking deeper into a vodka bottle. Talbot Kidd, an urbane gentleman and amateur photographer, the nature of whose work is never truly explained, has to field all sorts of financial, social, contractual and emotional problems as the producer of the film, including his own smudged sexuality. The Trio.
Boyd has worked on enough films and TV series, including the excellent Any Human Heart and Restless, to know the absurdities of the film business. Cleverly, he mixes in a sprinkling of real names, like Judy Geeson, Suzy Kendall and Dirk Bogarde, with other believable characters. Dorian Villiers is one such larger-than-life actor from the Donald Wolfit school of over-acting, dear boy: ‘Well met by moonlight Talbot, mon brave! You bastard – why didn’t you tell me you were filming here in Brighton-town?’ At Villiers’ lavish dinner party that follows shortly after, Elfrida asks Talbot whether that was Morgan von Hoffman sitting over there? Talbot glances over, ‘No, it’s Max von Sydow.’ ‘I thought I recognised him.’
Elfrida is obsessed with getting back into writing, particularly a book on the Last Day of Virginia Woolf, but her agent wants her to write another book altogether. ‘Is anyone actually interested in Woolf these days? She’s a bit passé, no?’ He goes on, ‘Wealthy, snobbish, over privileged, physically unattractive, English intellectuals fucking each other… This is 1968, Elfrida. Look around you. Germany, France, the U.S.A, Vietnam. The world is on fire, changing. Don’t go backwards.’ But she does.
There are a number of subplots to keep readers on their toes, with enough twists and turns involving not one but two gentlemen turning up in Anny’s hotel bedroom, to say nothing of priapic Troy. The first is her ex-husband, an escapee terrorist on the run from the FBI and Special Branch, demanding money. The second is her French boyfriend Jacques, an activist writer and philosopher from Guadeloupe. Theft of film stock prompts Talbot to employ private investigator Ken Kincade, a local hipster with ‘nearly’ a law degree and an LHD black Ford Mustang, complete with orange lightning stripes down each side. There then follows a sad and grubby little sequence, the least said about the better, although it does have flashes of dark humour. There are numerous characters for Boyd to introduce the reader to, no matter how briefly, including Troy’s agents, the Appleby Brothers, Troy’s parents in their house he bought for them, with an unused Jag parked outside, Talbot’s business advisor, a scaffolder working next door to his house in Chiswick, to whom he has taken a shine, Joe Swire the line producer, all bit- and or walk-on parts in this book of a film being made, just like a film, bit-by-bit and out of sequence.
This is an another excellent yarn from Boyd’s pen, that rattles along at a sometimes frantic pace, but always comes back to the sensitivities and dark secrets of the trio, as though we are being allowed to sit down in an armchair with a large drink at the end of a hard day’s shoot. Cut!
246 pp. £18.99