Friday, 14 December 2012

Forgotten Book - The Impostor

My Forgotten Book for today is another from that talented, and genuinely interesting, writer Helen McCloy. The Impostor was one of her last books, first published in 1976 when she was in her 70s, yet it is a lively, fast-moving story, a thriller rather than a detective story, though there is a neat twist and revelation near the end.

Marina Skinner has married into a rich but rather sinister family. She is involved in a car crash, and when she wakes in a psychiatric clinic, she finds herself effectively a prisoner. Dr Sander, the psychiatrist treating her, is a menacing character and a kindly nurse who tries to help her to escape herself vanishes from the clinic. The chance of escape comes at last when Victor Skinner, her husband, arrives to take her home. There is only one snag - the man claiming to be Victor is an impostor.

This is a great set-up, and the story moves along in a brisk, trust-nobody fashion. Victor, it tuns out, has gone missing, and it seems that the Skinner family business is involved in research into a new and lethal form of laser. We move from a domestic type of mystery, in effect, to international intrigue, with a good deal of cryptoanalysis of a mysterious cipher thrown in.

I felt the second half of the story faltered a bit, partly because I didn't find all the stuff about ciphers as fascinating as McCloy clearly did. In an afterword, she explains - with admirable honesty - that in fact she got one or two things wrong about the cipher in her story, but by the time she found out it was too late to change the narrative. This is a good example of the dangers of excessive complexity. A cipher that a typical reader hasn't a hope of decoding is, to my mind, not worth several pages of discussion, especially when otherwise the pace is excellent. However, there are enough good things in the book as a whole for me to have enjoyed it. Not McCloy's masterpiece, but an enjoyable read, cipher or no.


Jerry House said...

Thanks for this reminder, Martin. It's a shame that McCloy's books are not better known today.

AntK said...

Like the sound of that one Martin, will see which of her books are still available. Someone I rediscovered earlier this year is Andrew Garve...another forgotten crime author.

J said...

Martin, which is McCloy's best work, in your opinion? I've never read her, though she was married to Davis Dresser, who wrote as Brett Halliday...

seana graham said...

I have a weird feeling of deja vu about this one, because the premise with the husband sounds familiar, but I don't think I read it. Maybe there is a movie with a similar idea. Anyway, she sounds like someone to try at some point.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks very much for these comments.
Ant, I hope to cover Garve again before too long.
J, I have only read a few so far, but her debut, Dance of Death, will take a lot of beating. The set-up is superb.
Seana, I think some other stories have a similar premise, not least the Robert Thomas play Trap for a Lonely Man, though the storyline develops very differently.