Friday 5 October 2018

Forgotten Book - My Name is Michael Sibley

Someone asked me recently about whether I ever bother to re-read crime novels. When so many remain unread, logically, can it be a good use of time to revisit books one has read before? Well, I do re-read books, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's simply because I love them. Sometimes, too, I'm prepared to give a second chance to a book that disappointed me first time around. The latter course may be risky, but sometimes it reaps dividends.

So it was with John Bingham's debut novel, My Name is Michael Sibley. The book came out in 1952, and was praised by Julian Symons in Bloody Murder, which led me to seek it out. I must have been in my early twenties when I read it, perhaps younger, and I felt that Symons had over-praised it. But when I read it again recently, I saw why Symons liked it, and appreciated Bingham's achievement as I should have done the first time around.

The book is told in the first person by, you guessed it, Michael Sibley. He's a professional writer, and a friend of his from school days has been found dead in suspicious circumstances. A police inspector and sergeant, whose names are never revealed, come to interview him, and he tells a less than truthful story. As events unfold, this proves to have been a serious error. Along the way, we learn about the nature of the supposed friendship between Sibley and the dead man.

I suppose that, originally, I was disappointed partly by the lack of a clever twist to the murder mystery, and partly by the fact that Sibley is a deeply flawed man, hard to warm to. Nowadays, I'm much readier to appreciate the cleverness of Bingham in the way he tells his story. I suspect this book had a considerable influence on Symons' books, and I also feel that there are elements of the story which suggest that Bingham himself was influenced by Francis Iles. Be that as it may, it's a good novel, and I'm really glad I re-read it.


Roger Allen said...

Bingham was also David Cornwell/John Le Carré's mentor in MI5 and a model for George Smiley.
His daughter Charlotte was also in MI5 for a short time and wrote a memoir MI5 and Me: A Coronet Among the Spooks.

Clothes In Books said...

I agree with you a about this book: it is very clever and well-written, though rather grim.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Moira. He was an interesting writer.

Martin Edwards said...

Quite right, Roger. There is a good biography of him by Michael Jago, well worth reading.