Criminal Classics – Craig Robertson


Craig Robertson’s latest book Cold Grave is out in June but until then you can catch up with his debut Random, a tricky and sharply written serial killer novel, and the follow-up Snapshot.  You can stalk him on Twitter and find more about his work on Facebook.

Here’s the man himself on Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman…



Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman is rarely regarded as a crime novel despite the prima facie evidence at the scene suggesting that it very much is one.

The unnamed narrator sets out with an accomplice to rob a local man and in the process the victim is murdered. The accomplice delivers “a great blow to the neck” then the narrator “smashes his jaw in with my spade”. So far, so crime.

It is a thriller that is terrifying in places, underpinned by themes of guilt and retribution. The plot centres round a stolen money-box, a spell in jail and, of course, policemen (three of them). Sounds like a crime novel, right?

And yet…

If we were to ignore the primary evidence and instead do a DNA test on The Third Policeman, we would undoubtedly find traces of Alice in Wonderland. There would also be the odd polymer of Crime and Punishment and definite strands of Dante’s Inferno.

The Third Policeman is a book like no other. It is intricate, deep, inventive, funny and scary. Nothing is as it seems and that is probably just as well when that includes an army of one-legged men; a box that can produce anything you desire; a contraption which changes sound into light; and one man’s unrequited love for his bicycle.

O’Brien’s book is a comic masterpiece of the absurd and a triumph of satire.

The most difficult question to answer about The Third Policeman is probably the one that is asked most often. What is it about? My best stab at it would be to suggest it is about the eternal damnation of a deserving hell. And bicycles.

My best advice would be not to try to classify it or analyse it. Just read it.

– Craig Robertson

The Criminal Classics series was prompted by a post which originally appeared at Crime Fiction Lover.

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