Friday 30 November 2018

Forgotten Book - Singled Out

Simon Brett is a multi-talented author, and the range of the 100-plus books that he's written is truly impressive. Not all his work is within the crime genre, but that's the specialism for which he's best known, perhaps above all for his long and very entertaining series featuring the actor Charles Paris. His dark novels of psychological suspense are interesting, but only the first of them, A Shock to the System, is well-known, thanks to the film version starring Michael Caine.

Singled Out was published in 1995. It's not an easy book to write about in detail, because the plot is so elaborate that it's almost impossible not to give spoilers. But let me have a try. The story begins in 1973, with attractive Laura Fisher, whose marriage has recently broken down, setting out to seduce a man so as to become pregnant. In this first section of the book, we learn about Laura's past - and of how she'd been deeply affected by a murder. Laura works in television, and Simon Brett's understanding of the  TV world makes the background seem authentic, even if the events of the story are outlandish.

The story then moves on to 1993, and a sequence of events which forces Laura to confront the horrors of her personal background, and the fear that history may be about to repeat itself. The narrative is concerned not just with murder, but with child abuse and incest. Reading it now, a quarter of a century later, it seems to reflect the mores of the time, which are in some ways rather different from those of the present.

I see this book as forming part of a tradition of British psychological suspense, reaching back to Francis Iles' novels, and including several of the novels of Julian Symons, such as The Plot Against Roger Rider. Like Iles and Symons, Brett is an expert plotsmith, but for me, his greatest strength as a crime writer is his wit. Humour isn't much in evidence in such a bleak story as this, and I suspect that explains why he moved away from this type of writing. Singled Out isn't by any means his best book, but it's an interesting and laudably ambitious example of a fast-paced and very readable novel of suspense.

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