Friday, 14 March 2014

Forgotten Book - Take My Life

Winston Graham is well remembered as the author of the Poldark series of historical romances set in Cornwall, but his excellent crime fiction is (with a few exceptions such as Marnie) often overlooked. My Forgotten Book for today is a mystery he published in 1947, which is now available as a Bello ebook. I think Take My Life began life as a screenplay, and this is evident in the visual quality of the story. Certainly, it was filmed, although I've never seen the movie version.

At the time he published this book, Graham had been writing novels for more than a decade, yet overall I think it's fair to say that it still formed part of his literary apprenticeship (and many of my fellow authors may well agree that one's apprenticeship sometimes feels as though it will never end!) I read this book on holiday in the Arctic, immediately before a second Graham novel written twenty years later, and there's no doubt that the later book is superior. I'll say more about that one on this blog before long. But Take My Life is a swift, easy read. He was a very accessible writer.

This is a "race against time" story, one of those where an innocent man faces execution for murder, and the one person who believes in him faces a desperate struggle to try to establish that he did not commit the crime. Everything in Philippa Talbot's life seems rosy. She is a young, pretty and talented singer, who has just returned to London with her new husband Nicholas. But her pleasure in success on the stage is marred when she sees him with a member of the orchestra who - it turns out - is a former lover. They have a row, he leaves the house, and at a time when he has no alibi, the lover is murdered.

So, whodunit? The answer is soon revealed, because Graham is more interested in the clock race than mystery. I have to say that I did not believe the evidence was strong enough to convict a man of murder, and the police's failure to follow up other leads, though perhaps necessary for the plot, was highly unconvincing. These are real flaws, yet it is a tribute to Graham's sheer readability that I raced through the story, keen to find out precisely what had happened, despite my reservations. Not a masterpiece, by a long chalk, but brisk and worthwhile entertainment.


Nik Morton said...

One of my (many) favourite authors, Martin. Besides his Poldark books, I enjoyed Angell Pearl and Little God, Cordelia, The Walking Stick and After the Act.

J F Norris said...

I tried to read Graham's THE WALKING STICK earlier this year, but gave up on it. Is that the other book you read? It fits the 20 year later publication date. I was expecting something along the lines of MARNIE (and admittedly I only know the story from the movie version) and was disappointed that the crime plot didn't manifest itself sooner. Too much soap opera for me and I got bored waiting for the crux of the plot to turn up. He won an award for THE LITTLE WALLS. I may try that one later this year.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Nik. More about The Walking Stick before long!

Martin Edwards said...

Hi John - well deduced! But I must say my view differs - I thought it very effective though I accept the crime element takes time to emerge. I too hope to read The Little Walls before long.

Kelly Robinson said...

This sounds interesting, but you've also inspired me to read MARNIE.