Friday, 30 June 2017

Forgotten Book - The Little Walls

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.


Jonathan O said...

Typo alert! Para 2 - "The Little Wars"?

Seriously, I must dig this out and re-read it...

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Jonathan. I definitely value my keen eyed readers!

Anonymous said...

Hi Martin,

Thanks for this review; I'm glad you enjoyed the novel. I read it myself a few years ago, intrigued by it having been the first CWA novel of the year. I agree that it's a very interesting and compelling book, though I seem to remember that the central revelation isn't difficult to foresee. I also recall that the novel's ending was very strong and elegant. Apart from a couple of books in the Poldark series, which I read in childhood, pressed on me by a friend whose family were all huge fans, this is the only Graham novel I've read. I have a copy of 'Marnie' on my 'to read' pile - but do you have any favourites amongst Graham's crime novels and thrillers?

As it happens, at the Bristol book fair yesterday I saw a first edition of 'The Little Walls' for sale at £15. I wasn't tempted myself - too much else to spend my money on! - but surely that was a bargain for someone?

Neil C

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Neil. I rather like The Walking Stick. And if The Little Walls was in a jacket, then I'd say £15 was a good buy. Though his crime novels aren't extensively collected for some reason that isn't clear to me.