I have reviewed both Jim Murdoch's previous novels and have thoroughly enjoyed doing so. Rather than following that particular story any further, though, Murdoch has embarked in a totally new direction. Milligan and Murphy expressly refers to Mercier and Camier, a Beckett novel in which two men repeatedly try to leave a particular town without success, and the allusion is obvious as out two eponymous heroes first finally leave the town of their birth on a whim and then spend the rest of the book walking to other places which seem exactly the same, while debating while they left in the first place and dealing with their guilt about having abandoned their mother. In Beckett's book, Camier is a private eye, and in a nice touch Murdoch has the two boys successfully located by a private eye hired by their mother, allowing a few wry reflections on the nature of the detective's process.
There are other influences too. Surely the name of the first character is not accidental, for there are frequent whiffs of Puckoon, one of Jim's (and my) favourite books, and I thought I detected a sense of Jack Trevor Story in some of the dialogue. Jim's unique voice shines through, however, and just as well since he is a very fine writer indeed.
It is particularly impressive that he has managed to produce a novel which is so different in subject matter, style and characterisation from his first two. I can only begin to guess how many hours it must have taken to think himself into the minds of his characters.
I am not going to reveal the ending, not least because there is an amusing and thought-provoking passage about the nature of the end to a novel. In order to know the ending, the author argues, you have to know at which point in the story the writer decided to stop telling it.
I really recommend this book. It is available online from FV Books