We’re back in the technicolour 50s here, right in the middle of one of the most intense periods of athletics history, when the entire running world seemed to be holding its breath, not wondering if the 4-minute mile could be broken, but wondering when, and perhaps more importantly …. who. The fact that we know the outcome doesn’t make the story around it any less fascinating, the effort any less incredible, the events any less thrilling.
This could be the tale of that 4-minute mile, eventually broken so famously by this man… Roger Bannister.
Except that monumental bit of sporting achievement is only a part of The Murder Mile, and Bannister smashes the 4-minute barrier at the half-way stage of this particular tale, and we see him do it on a film reel.
Because this story has athletics and the mile merely as its backdrop, and a good old-fashioned hardboiled detective story as it’s main feature. The whole thing revolves around current private investigator, ex-Normandy soldier, and long-time running fan Daniel Stone.
And it’s running that connects everything here, with Collicutt telling his tale through the three aspects of Stone’s life; the running and the sleuthing dovetail together in the present, Stone called in to investigate the suspicious death of potential 4-minute miler Todd “The Phoenix Flyer” Naylor. The police suspect foul play, suspect his coach of betting the wrong way, suspect Naylor of throwing races. But whilst all this goes on Stone gets to revisit past friendships amongst the running fraternity he was once part of, and his memories stretch back to the war, running as a soldier, for fun whilst they wait in England for their orders, and then running for his life, scrambling up Normandy beaches, running for his life.
By mixing this fictional dead runner’s case in with the events of the athletics world of 1954, Collicutt is combining two obvious loves, and the passion he puts into both comes through on practically every one of the lovingly painted watercolour pages.
The Murder Mile was a graphic novel I so wanted to work; a mix of noir detective tale and athletics biography detailing that most famous of records. It instantly reminded me of another tale of human achievement and endeavour contrasted with an investigation, the mountaineering brilliance of Summit Of The Gods. I wanted it to work, wanted it to seamlessly mix all that thrilling adventure with the fascinating and equally enthralling sporting achievement. Sadly The Murder Mile, although good, although very good, is still lacking that essential brilliance, that effortless mixing of stories that we see in Summit.
The running sequences are beautifully done, the tensions, the ideas of absolute human effort, near superhuman effort, the spirit of the times, the adventure of the fastest runners in the world – all captured exceptionally well. And the criminal investigation, the death, the betting scandal and race-fixing allegations flying around is similarly well done. But the interconnect of the two…. that just doesn’t work as well. God I wish it had, because then I may well be calling this one of the books of the year. I so wish it had.
As it is, what you have is just a really entertaining, really impressive book, lovingly created, thrillingly told, yours to thoroughly enjoy. That will have to be enough.