Successful crime novels with a sporting background are rare – Dick Francis’ racing thrillers being a notable exception. Cricket, a complex game that provokes passionate devotion in its fans and baffled boredom in its detractors, features as a background element in quite a number of crime novels, perhaps most famously in Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, while the gentleman burglar Raffles was a skilled bowler. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was a cricketer and huge fan of the game, but sadly he never involved Sherlock Holmes in a cricketing mystery.
My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series of Forgotten Books is Testkill, in which cricket is very much in the foreground. Testkill was co-written by Ted Dexter, a former England cricket captain, and one of the game’s most charismatic figures (‘Lord Ted’ was his nickname, and he played to entertain, unlike many of his contemporaries n the dour 1960s), and Clifford Makins, a journalist. It was first published n 1976 and I devoured it the following year, as soon as Penguin published it in paperback – it was the first book I read when recovering from over-indulgence after my final exams at university, and the light, agreeable mystery definitely assisted the recovery process!
The setting is a Lord’s Test Match, with England playing Australia. When one of the bowlers collapses and drops dead in mid-pitch, it soon becomes apparent that murder has been done. The background is authentically done, and this is the real appeal of the book. The whodunit plot isn’t really in the Christie class, but it’s a breezy thriller, and it achieved enough success to tempt Dexter and Makins to write a follow-up, this time set in the golfing world, called Deadly Putter, which I haven't read. If you fancy a bit of escapism with lashings of cricket lore, Testkill is still worth a read.