Regular readers of this blog will know of my admiration for the books that Pierre Boileau wrote in tandem with Thomas Narcejac. Their excellent crime stories were by no means limited to the books that were brilliantly filmed as Vertigo and Les Diaboliques. They were, like Hitchcock, masters of suspense. They were also very clever plotsmiths, and The Tube is a case in point.
The book was originally published in France in 1958, under the title L'ingenieur aimait trop les chiffres, and was translated into English in 1960 by Robert Eglesfield. It continues to surprise me, by the way, that some of the duo's work remains untranslated. You'd think that their success would make their work very much in demand.
In this novel they set out to update the locked room mystery. We are presented with a classic impossible crime scenario, but in what was then a highly topical and controversial setting - a nuclear laboratory. The story opens with a shooting. The victim is a scientist who has been working on a nuclear device, misuse of which could kill millions. Not only is it impossible to figure out how the killer escaped detection - the tube containing the lethal material has gone missing. Yes, I'm afraid that health and safety systems at the lab were astonishingly lax.
The story is told with characteristic pace, and assurance - Boileau and Narcejac really were very skilled writers. They were also pleasingly ingenious. Their taste of the macabre is not quite so much in evidence here as in some of their mysteries; then again, the threat of the exploding tube will be potent even for most readers' tastes. It's a quick, light read, and I'm surprised that nobody has seen fit to reprint the story in English for almost sixty years.