Friday, 27 September 2013

Forgotten Book - Born to Be Hanged

Paul McGuire is an author I'd never heard of until a Golden Age loving friend of mine urged me to read McGuire's Born to Be Hanged, and generously followed up by lending me his own copy. And I'm very glad he did, because his words of praise for this well-written and engaging novel were amply justified. It's a really good read.

McGuire was Australian, and a prominent Catholic, but his writing enjoyed considerable success in the United States. This story, however (and I think many if not all his other crime novels) is set in England - rural Dorset, to be precise, and he captures the intimate nature of life in a small town on the south coast very well indeed.

The story, narrated by a retired academic called George Collins, begins nicely: "There were many reasons, most of them excellent, for Spender's death." I felt there was a touch of Francis Iles or Richard Hull about the narrative style and the sly humour. There are plenty of witty lines, and this is a real strength of the book. The victim (found hanged by lassoo, interestingly enough) is a typical Thirties victim - a really odious chap who devotes his truncated existence to upsetting people for the fun of it. So there are plenty of suspects.

I wondered if there was an Agatha Christie style trick in store for us, but McGuire structures his story quite cunningly. There is not a great deal of action, but he camouflages this pretty well, and although the narrative depends on a single (if complicated) crime, it does not flag until the later stages, when there is an unnecessarily lengthy explanation of the backstory of one of the characters. I don't think the ending, twist and all, lived up to the promise of the excellent start, and for this reason I don't claim the book ranks with the best of Berkeley and Hull. But it is still very entertaining to read, and I am encouraged to seek out more books by Paul McGuire. He was a cut above many of his peers as a writer.


John said...

Probably his most original, and surely one of the most unique detective novels in all the genre, is BURIAL SERVICE (also published as FUNERAL IN EDEN). I'm sure you'd enjoy that one, Martin. Set in a mythical island kingdom it's reminiscent of that odd detective novel THE POISON ORACLE by Peter Dickinson.

Kelly Robinson said...

I thought from the title that this might be a western. Pleased to see that it's something more to my taste.