Friday, 19 April 2013

Forgotten Book - Antidote to Venom

I've gradually become more interested in the work of Golden Age stalwart Freeman Wills Crofts. Despite his sometimes laborious style, he was a thoughtful man who experimented with the detective story form rather more than I had realised. My Forgotten Book for today, Antidote to Venom, is a case in point. First published in 1938, it includes a short preface in which Crofts makes it clear that he was trying was a twofold experiment.

First, he combines an "inverted" crime story with a conventional account of police detection. This is a bold step, structurally, but very interesting. George Surridge is the protagonist of the first part of the book. He is in charge of a zoo at "Birmington" in the Midlands, good at his job, but unhappily married to a snooty woman and fonder of gambling than his finances should permit.

Things start to go wrong when he falls for a woman called Nancy. He contemplates murdering an aunt for her money, but shrinks from the act. However, when the old lady dies, and he finds that her solicitor has been robbing her of all her assets, he gets sucked into a complicated and ingenious criminal conspiracy. I thought this part of the story was extremely well done. After murder is committed, it seems that the crime will go unpunished, but once Inspector French comes on the scene, the criminals' fate is, of course, sealed.

The second part of the experiment is that Crofts was trying to tell what he called a "positive" story. What he meant by this was that he was conveying a positive religious message about the redemption of a sinner. This aspect of the experiment is less successful, mainly because Crofts was not especially good at creating truly believable characters acting in a consistent and wholly believable way. Even so, I thought that what he did in the book was brave, unusual, and absolutely readable. I've read a number of his books now, but I'd rate this as the most impressive so far. Definitely worth seeking out.


J F Norris said...

This is my favorite of his. As I said in my review last year I rarely finished any of Crofts' books I attempted. This one is quite good.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John, glad you are of like mind on this one. I really enjoyed it.