Graham Lironi makes a noteworthy contribution to the large quantities of crime fiction continuously being published with his short and entertaining mystery-thriller Oh Marina Girl. Lironi, once a student in Dundee, delivers a book which is rich in narrative skills, a strong sense of character and unpredictable plot twists- whilst taking a closer look at big themes such as coming to terms with bereavement. To begin with, the premise of the story is rather basic and clichéd- an editor of the letters page in a Glasgow newspaper receives an anonymous letter threatening to murder an innocent man unless the kidnapper’s demands are met. The editor soon finds that this situation concerns him more than he realises, as those involved in the kidnapping and its investigation are all connected in strange and seemingly coincidental ways.
The narrative style in Oh Marina Girl is the first-person narrative, related in the form of correspondence between the editor and a pen-pal. This narrative tool becomes a key component used to drive the story forward towards its resolution. To engage more with the reader and make the device of the pen-pal more convincing, the editor often relays information from others word-for-word:
“ I suppose it would be easier for you to understand my actions if I explained the content of the letter to you. In fact, I can do better than that- I can reproduce it for you verbatim”
However, although the plot of Oh Marina Girl is clever and contains an interesting mystery, there is never any real feeling of danger or that there is anything at stake in the story. This is possibly due to the lack of detail or the non-graphic nature of the small amount of violence in the narrative- . Another feature which detracts from the book is the over-use of certain clues in the mystery. Although these clues are initially clever, they are too often revisited (and even used in the title of the book) so that after a while they become obvious.
However these weaker aspects of the book are somewhat compensated for by the way in which Lironi presents a red-herring and, in the process, misleads both the protagonist and the reader as to the identity of the culprit. This is done by following the editor’s thought process and, as he begins to make sense of the puzzle, we begin to believe that the answer he has reached must indeed be the correct one: “And, if not then did that mean he was dead? Was Mark Twain the kidnapper? Perhaps he was Will’s messenger?”
Lironi’s best moments in the novel do not take place during the contemporary plot but in the narrative of the editor’s past in which the reader learns more about his family. It is perhaps the only time in which the protagonist feels genuine and human. In these moments we have a small glimpse of the editor’s motives and psychology. Additionally, there is a certain amount of pleasure in reading Lironi’s long, complex sentences which often run-on for entire paragraphs. It brings out the more intimate and personal nature of reading something which a close pen-pal might write.
Another element which makes the reading experience so engaging is Lironi’s memorable use of imagery: “…drowned upturned shopping trolley… the oily, stagnant water choking on rusted and crushed cans of Tennent’s lager, spawny condoms… the moon-glinted, shattered-glass –spangled tarmac rimming the pool…”
Oh Marina Girl could most definitely benefit from being much lengthier and fuller (coming in at a mere 163 pages). It seems that everything happens too quickly. Along with there being nothing at stake, there does not seem to be much of a struggle to solve the mystery- leaving the reader thinking: “Is that it?” With a deeper and more complex plot containing a greater variety of puzzles and clues this novel could be very captivating. However, as it is, it seems as if Lironi is only really scratching the surface.