The Little Walls was published in 1955, and the following year, it won the CWA's Crossed Red Herring Award for the best crime novel of the year. That was the very first time the prize had been awarded. It's now the CWA Gold Dagger. Some of the finest crime novels of the past sixty years have won the Gold Dagger, but a surprising number have fallen far out of sight since then.
The Little Walls is among them, and yet its author is renowned. He was Winston Graham, famous above all for Poldark, which I've never read or watched, but which is undoubtedly very popular. What is more, Graham's crime fiction was also successful - Hitchcock filmed Marnie, for instance, and The Walking Stick also became a movie.
This novel reminded me strongly of the type of thriller Eric Ambler was writing at much the same time. Graham's writing, like Ambler's, is several cuts above the average. He is strong on character and setting and competent with plot, though this isn't a whodunit. Rather, it involves the attempt by Philip Turner to find out the truth about the death of his brother, who apparently committed suicide by jumping into a canal in Amsterdam.
The heart of the book lies in a series of moral dilemmas. Graham contrasts two different types of personality, in effect representing good and evil, and does so in a way that is constantly interesting, even if the pace is occasional less fast than one expects of a thriller. Much of the action takes place in Capri, and he evokes that lovely island's languid nature very well. I can see why this book won the award, and I'm glad I finally caught up with it at last.