Friday, 7 September 2012

Forgotten Book - My Wife, Melissa

More than three years ago, I posted about the original 1960s TV version of Melissa, with a script by Francis Durbridge. Melissa was revived in the Nineties by the estimable Alan Bleasdale, a show I sat down to watched with great optimism when it first aired - but the results were disappointing. (Interesting - Bleasdale's literary talents seem to me to be, unarguably, superior, but when it comes to a dazzlingly intricate thriller, give me Durbridge any day. It takes a particular talent to spring constant surprises in the way he does, and to - more or less! - make sense of it all at the end.) Now, at long last, I’ve caught up with the Durbridge novel My Wife, Melissa.

For this, I have to thank Bello, who provided me with a review copy to read on my iPad – and Durbridge’s style is so smooth and easy to read that I found this an ideal book to devour on screen rather than in print form. Bello have made quite a number of Durbridge’s non-Paul Temple titles available, and they make ideal holiday fare, entertaining without being too taxing.

The story-line is classic Durbridge, narrated in the first person by an amiable ex-journalist who has been trying to establish himself as a novelist. His marriage to the glamorous Melissa has hit a rocky patch, though, and after she goes out to a party with friends, he receives a phone call from her, summoning him to meet someone who may be able to help him with his career. But Melissa has been strangled – and she was dead before the phone call was made...

The twists come thick and fast, and the serial nature of the source screenplay is apparent from the abundance of cliff-hangers. Characterisation was not  Durbridge’s strength, and we don’t really care about any of the suspects, or even the luckless Melissa, just as we don’t stop to think about the unlikelihood of most of the plot developments. Durbridge’s ability to sweep his readers along so that these flaws don’t really matter is enviable. This isn’t War and Peace, but it was never meant to be. Great fun. 


polecat said...

I enjoyed the original Melissa TV series very much, and I thought that Durbridge's slapdash plotting worked best in the old videotaped TV format, which somehow made the improbabilities less glaring. For some reason, Durbridge was hugely popular in Germany, and there is also a German Melissa series made a few years later. Another great example of his blithe plotting is the 1957 film The Vicious Circle, starring John Mills - based, I think, not on a book but an original script.

Clothes In Books said...

This does sound good for light reading. Good for Bello with their reprints - I enjoyed a recent one by Josephine Bell, and will be looking at their list for other forgotten gems.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for your comments. Polecat, I agree about The Vicious Circle - very good.
Clothes in Books - you might like to take a look at the Roy Vickers titles. I've just started reading one - very good.