Friday, 26 August 2016

Forgotten Book- Insoluble

Francis Everton was a very interesting Golden Age writer, but unquestionably qualifies as forgotten. But the reason why he's long been neglected has nothing to do with poor writing. In fact, he was -in my opinion -  a rather better prose stylist than a great many of his contemporaries. He also had a knack of coming up with intriguing plots, and he was published by the prestigious Collins Crime Club imprint. No, the reason why we have heard so little of him for so long is partly because his stories verged on the unorthodox, and partly because he wrote so few of them.

Insoluble, first published in 1934, is quite an original story, even though it does feature (not as a principal element) a box of poisoned chocolates, one of my favourite Golden Age tropes. Everton was a businessman based in the Midlands whose real name was Stokes. He makes good use of his scientific knowledge in this novel, which features the mysterious death of Cecil Manning, who just happens to be a Midlands businessman.

Manning is a typical Golden Age victim, with a knack of making enemies. He treats an inventive subordinate harshly, and his marriage is far from idyllic. Only his tough-minded aunt is really devoted to him, and it's no surprise when he's found dead. What's harder to establish is whether he was murdered; an inquest returns a verdict of death by misadventure.

The story is told by a (moderately likeable) solicitor, and Inspector Allport, who made an impression on me in The Young Vanish, which I reviewed here a while back, is regrettably absent. The official detective, a local man called Pratt, is a subordinate character. The tale is, as was Everton's way, rather meandering, but Everton's wit and ability to turn a crisp phrase offer ample compensation for this And the conclusion is intriguing and, like Everton's writing generally, rather ahead of its time.


Don Coffin said...

I discovered, while looking for used copies of his books, that he was published in the US by Bobbs-Merrill (headquartered in the 1920s and 1930s in my home town of Indianapolis). Their reputation is for fairly shoddy production qualities, and what I have seen of their books published in the 1920s and 1930s bears that out. Sellers are asking high-ish prices for books described as, at best, acceptable.

Martin Edwards said...

Interesting, Don. Thank you.