Wednesday 17 November 2010

The Long Memory revisited

After I posted about the film of The Long Memory, I was contacted by Liz Gilbey, a long-time contributor to CADS, who had written about the book previously. A very enjoyable correspondence has followed, and Liz has kindly supplied both the images above from the original book (the photo depicts the talented but now forgotten author Howard Clewes) and the following guest post about this very interesting story:

'Philip Davidson has served seventeen years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Released on parole, he hunts down the two people who lied and condemned him.

So far, so standard fare. But Howard Clewes wrote a crime masterpiece with this book, still fresh and exciting when read 59 years on. Little wonder it was compared to early Graham Greene when first reviewed.

There is a complication to what starts as a tale of revenge. One of the perjurors is married to a policeman who investigated the case. He has always had his suspicions.....and he is also the narrator of the book.

Inspector Lowther is not a hero nor is he an admirable man. He had his suspicions at the time of the murder, but quashed them; because he fell in love with Fay - Davidson's girlfriend - when investigating the case, and love made him blind.

But now Davidson is out seeking revenge, and the marriage has faded into inertia. Lowther fears for his wife, and his conscience is needling him about the miscarriage of justice, even though he had tampered with evidence to put Fay in a good light, and his career will be destroyed if this comes to light.

The book is psychologically rich and complex, dealing with love, marriage, injustice, people smuggling, displaced persons, poverty, social and industrial decay. The characters are strong, from the over conscientious reporter on the case to the harrassed wives. Even the dead man who turns out not to be dead at all. And the setting - the Thames estuary - has it's own grim identity.

Coming to the book from the film (increasingly being accalimed as a great British film noir) it is remarkable how faithful one is the the other - sometimes you have to check to make sure the book was indeed written first, for action and descriptions replicate wholesale, as if the author is directing and even casting the film. The only odd man out is John Mills as Davidson. Davidson is written as a hulk of a man, not the physically slight Mills (whose confidence building participation was part of a brave rush of films seen at the time as mere quota quickies to keep the British film industry alive.) But his characterisation is true and strong.

Story changes for the film strengthen and simplify some themes and accomodate the narrator's inner musings without detracting from the book.

Track down and enjoy the book, see the film. Both are true masterpieces, spare and strong.'

I've not yet read the book, but I certainly endorse Liz's views about the film. Thanks, Liz!


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks so much for sharing this post. I know I've learned a tremendous amount from the people I've corresponded with about topics that have come up on blogs. I'm glad that happened for you, too.

RaiderLegend said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing all the information about this author and book. I'd recently watched the movie and was captivated by the story. I wouldn't mind reading the book. It is truly an old Irish tale.