The Forensic Records Society stands out among Magnus Mills’s novels for its practically Aristotelian narrowness. Its dialogue-driven plot assembles in the back room of a pub (not, at that, a gastro). Reflective, preparatory interludes are sketched at the slightly depressing abodes of the novel’s two leading vinyl bores. Neither quite qualifies for the title of protagonist.
The classically Millsian narrator, nameless as ever, is conscience-ridden yet malleable. Little escapes him but he seems paralysed without orders; at one point he comments with discernment, ‘I’m a bit of an outsider these days.’ His stronger, dubious friend James is described as ‘puritanical’ and a ‘true believer’. After founding the titular records society, he provokes a series of diplomatic ruptures and dispatches the narrator to take the flak. James, with his ‘side-projects’ of relentlessly categorical tedium, iron will, inexplicable charisma to the novel’s personnel and inevitable comeuppance, would be a memorable monster if he appeared in a novel whose purpose approached conventional characterisation.
James and his ‘forensics’ are, in keeping with their guru’s mantra, wedded to listening pure and simple, ‘without comment or judgement’. These and the founder’s adherence to the letter of other rules – notably over timekeeping, though time stubbornly refuses to be kept, and is generally in short supply –