Francis Iles’ second book, Before the Fact, is my latest contribution to Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books. In truth, I hope it isn’t a forgotten book, and it certainly should not be, but the reality is that it hasn’t been available in the bookshops in the UK for far too long – my reprint dates from 1991 and may have been the last mainstream edition here.
Francis Iles was the name of a notorious smuggler, an ancestor of Anthony Berkeley Cox, who first found fame as the innovative Anthony Berkeley. The first Iles book, Malice Aforethought, was hugely influential. Before the Fact is also much admired, and it is memorable, although flawed.
It is the story of Lina Aysgarth, a born victim. She marries the charming Johnnie, but slowly becomes aware that he is a rogue. In time, she realises that he does not scruple at murder. And in the end, she discovers that he means to kill her.
This book was filmed by Hitchcock as Suspicion, but the master of suspense bottled out and changed the ending. It is a very bleak story indeed – the flaw, though, is that Lina is maddeningly passive. You end up wanting to scream at her to save herself. Even so, this is a remarkable story by a unique innovator.