Friday, 3 October 2008

Forgotten Book - Bat out of Hell

My latest entry in Patti Abbott's series Friday's Forgotten Books is a little-known gem of suspense, Bat out of Hell by Francis Durbridge.

First published in 1972, this book was a novelisation of a five-part serial aired on BBC TV in November and December 1966. I watched the original serial at a tender age and found it very enjoyable – it benefited from a tightly woven screenplay and excellent performances from John Thaw and Sylvia Syms as the doomed conspirators, and Dudley Foster as the shrewd detective. My expectations of the book were, however, low: few novelisations make good reading and even Durbridge’s original novels were patchy compared to his work for stage and screen.

So it was all the more pleasing to discover that the ingenious twists I remembered from all those years ago were just as expertly handled in the book, which I would rate as the best Durbridge I have read. Perhaps the reason why the story works so well is that, unlike most Durbridge mysteries, this is an ‘inverted’ tale, a terrific spin on the type of story that Austin Freeman devised and that other Golden Age writers such as Roy Vickers and, occasionally, Freeman Wills Crofts developed.

The added value comes from a startling series of cliff-hangers in the finest Durbridge tradition. Mark Paxton and Diana Stewart are lovers who concoct a plot to kill Diana’s husband Geoffrey. Murder is committed – but then Geoffrey’s body disappears and the dead man telephones Diana to warn her to identify another corpse as his. It is a terrific premise and further shocks follow at regular intervals. Very clever.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Martin. Sounds lovely and I wish I could see the BBC adaptation.

Scott Parker said...

The more I read and learn about crime fiction, the more I discover that I enjoy the puzzle-type stories, the whodunits. Up until now, I've basically only read the hard-boiled stuff. Now, recently, I've read Perry Mason, Cool and Lam, and the first 87th Precinct novels. The first two have intricate plots, much like you describe Bat out of Hell. I find I enjoy these more than I suspected. And I'm beginning to appreciate books that are described as 'clever' at lot more than I used to. And this book looks to fit in nicely. Thanks for the write-up.

Martin Edwards said...

Patti, I hope the BBC has not thrown the tapes away, but they did that a lot in the 1960s, alas!

Scott, good to hear from you. Yep, the book is well worth seeking out, I promise!

Janet Rudolph said...

I hope the BBC didn't toss the tapes. I'll put Bat Out of Hell on my TBR list. Sounds right up my alley or eaves in this case. Thanks for the recommendation.

Ray said...

I remember this. Though I have a bias towards the Paul Temple stories. Paul Temple and a lot of Francis Durbridge stories began life on the Radio. I didn't think that they transferred well to television.
Radio made you listen and worked the imagination so that, like the written word, you formed your own idea of how a scene is played out or how the characters looked.
Thanks, though, Martin for bringing up the name of someone who I felt was somewhat neglected - and jogging my memory.

andy charity said...

Bat out of Hell does survive i believe in its entirety as a 1966 television "miniseries". it was shown at london's national film theatre about 4 yrs ago (I didn't see it, live in NYC).

if someone is interested enough, there is a Mediatheque at said NFT which lists on the net all of its holdings, just maybe this is one of them, the M's programs can be watched in london and elsewhere in England without an appointment or scholarly purpose.

Martin Edwards said...

Andy - this is great information. Many thanks. I hope to check it out, eventually.

Mike said...

This and other BBC Francis Durbridge mystery's have been released on DVD and are stocked by Amazon and other websites.