I so much enjoyed reading the re-discovered crime novel by CS Forester, The Pursued, that I decided to have another look at his second novel of psychological suspense, Plain Murder, which was first published in 1930. It is a book which, like his debut, Payment Deferred, has tended to be forgotten by crime fans – but it certainly does not deserve such a fate.
I first read Plain Murder as a teenager, shortly after being blown away by the brilliance, as it seemed to me, of Payment Deferred. Perhaps inevitably, it suffered by comparison with its remarkable predecessor, and I have said as much once or twice in articles I've written over the years. But I'm now tempted to revise my opinion to some extent. The finale of this story is not quite as dazzling and original, but the book as a whole is short, snappy and highly enjoyable.
Three advertising men have been discovered by their boss in a minor fiddle. They face the sack, and the poverty that dismissal for gross misconduct almost always meant in 1930. The ringleader, Charlie Morris, persuades his colleagues to help him kill the boss, and they duly get away with murder. However, the crime feeds Morris' egotism, and he finds himself on a downward spiral of homicide.
One of the striking features of the book is the well-realised office setting. I can think of very few office-based mysteries written before 1930 – any suggestions? Certainly, Forester anticipated Dorothy L Sayers, who published Murder Must Advertise three years later. Her enjoyable novel is much better known than Forester's, but I do wonder if his book to some degree inspired hers.