My Forgotten Book for today is one of the last novels to appear under the famous pen-name of Patrick Quentin. Suspicious Circumstances, written by Hugh Wheeler, was published in 1957. At this time, I suspect Wheeler was pursuing his keen interest in showbiz which eventually led to his writing with the legendary Stephen Sondheim - Wheeler wrote the book of that wonderful musical "A Little Night Music", for instance, and was involved with "Cabaret", although sources differ as to the extent of that involvement.
So Wheeler certainly loved the showbiz world, and this shines through in the novel. The story is told by Nickie, a 19 year old young man who is devoted to his mother, once a famous actress. While he is away in France, enjoying himself with a woman called Monique, he receives an urgent summons from her to return home. Is this connected with the recent death of his mother's rival, Norma Delanay, by any chance? The answer proves to be yes.
It seems that Norma died accidentally, but Nickie is not so sure, and neither are the police. His mother, along with a number of other people in her circle, may have been at or close to the place where the accident happened. Suspicion switches around from one person to another. Whom can Nickie trust? This question of trust, suspicion and betrayal is eternally fascinating and it formed the core of my own second novel, Suspicious Minds.
Unfortunately, despite the potential of the showbiz setting, I found myself unable to warm to Nickie, his mother or anyone else in the book, and unable to care how Norma met her end. It seems to me that Wheeler was losing interest in the crime novel when he wrote this book. It has a perfunctory feel, very different from the energy that drives most of his fiction. I'm sorry to say so, but this is by far the worst Quentin I've read. But everyone has an off-day, and the other Quentins I've read are pacy and enjoyable. Please don't let my disappointment with one particular book put you off Quentin"