The advertising business has given rise to a number of very good mysteries. One thinks of that absolute classic, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise. And it’s true that a surprising number of novelists have honed their writing talents, like Sayers, on the drafting of advertising copy.
Julian Symons had a spell himself as a copywriter and he used his experience to good effect in my latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books, The 31st of February. This book was first published in 1950 and it illustrates the break between the generation of crime novelists who started work after the Second World War and their predecessors.
Symons was an extremely skilled plotter, but he was much more interested in the psychology of crime than many of his predecessors. Ingenuity is put to the service of delineation of character, and the creation of a brooding atmosphere. In this novel, an advertising man called Anderson is responsible for his wife’s death and is pursued ruthlessly by the rather sadistic Inspector Cresse.
Symons explores issues of guilt and innocence, while at the same time creating a mood of tension that spills over into terror. Anderson finds himself in a world of paradox and uncertainty reflected in the notion of a date that doesn’t exist – the 31st of February. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed almost all of Symons’ novels, and although inevitably a little dated, this one is still well worth reading.