In And Out By Mat Coward

In And Out by Mat Coward

Mat Coward knows a good deal about darts

Converted to the game in the 1970s when darts was booming, Mat played regularly for a pub in Hampstead, North London. Later he went on to write articles about the sport in Darts World and other magazines and newspapers. His approach to reporting the sport has always been original, no more so than when he wrote about the famous John Lowe nine-darter (Darts Player January/March 1985). His report, whilst celebratory, concentrated more on why John’s achievement had had such an impact on the press, especially the ‘heavies’, those newspapers columns inches for the sport of darts being as rare then as they are today

Mat Coward is also a friend of darts

But they are not the only reasons I have for recommending his latest book ‘In and Out’ (Waterville, Maine, USA: Five Star, 2001) to you. ‘In and Out’ is a damn good read. It is a detective novel, the second involving the moody, philosophical, oft times impatient and ‘in your face’ Detective Inspector Don Packham and the younger more inward thinking, less hasty and better personally organised, Police Constable Frank Mitchell – unlikely partners in crime busting in the fictional North London patch of Cowden

After the first case, (Up and Down), had been successfully solved by Packham and Mitchell, Mat’s publishers wanted more. The murder victim in Up and Down had been found on an allotment.Mat had drawn on his enthusiasm for allotment gardening for the first book. For his second book he decided to draw on his extensive personal knowledge of the world of darts – pub darts

One February night a team of darters from the Hollow Head pub, Cowden, are enjoying a well-deserved lock-in, following their victory over a great rival house. During the celebrations, long time team scorer Yvonne ‘Chalkie’ Wood – described as ‘a serial thriller’ – is found dead in the ladies’ toilet, her head caved in by a concrete doorstop. Twelve members of the darts team had motives and its up to Packham – a long time darts player and connoisseur of the arrows – and Mitchell – who admitted to having no appetite for games – to find out who topped Chalkie

What is good about this book, from a dart players perspective, is the way Mat weaves into this excellent murder mystery some of his own personal darts philosophy, particularly through the character of Don Packham. ‘Darts,’ Packham tells young Frank Mitchell, ‘Is about friendship. It’s about playing the game for its own sake.’ Whereas golf is a game ‘designed for keeping people in their place, a game designed to ensure the continuation of hierarchies.’ PC Frank Mitchell is an unwilling student and seems resistant to the pull of the darts as expounded by his senior officer. Certainly he sees his older, more senior colleague as ‘babbling’ when, whilst visiting a pub, Packham takes offence at the dart light being on when there was nobody playing. Why should the ritual be to ask the landlord to please switch the light on? At least Frank Mitchell – when finally agreeing to play darts – takes on board one of Packham’s key principles of play – you don’t actually throw a dart, you simply let go

In and Out’ is a good read. The threads of the story and the clues intertwine and although I thought I’d sussed it early on I was in fact utterly and completely wrong. That to me is the sign of a true murder mystery

Mat’s book does not utilise the complex forms employed by Ngaio Marsh in her darts-themed crime novel Death at the Bar (London: Collins, 1939) nor does it involve the extravagance of Martin Amis’ London Fields (London: Jonathan Cape, 1989). What it does have is the advantage of being a darts themed mystery that all darts players can relate to, written by a man who knows the joys of playing pub league darts in his ‘local.’ Therefore, whether or not you enjoy reading murder mysteries, In and Out is for all darters. (You might even recognise someone you know in the characters!)

In and Out is a darts mystery written with the insight of – if not a master darter – then perhaps a future master of mystery

© 2002 Patrick Chaplin

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