Friday, 26 July 2019

Forgotten Book - ...And Presumed Dead

There really ought to be a prize for the most excitable blurb for a crime novel. If there were, then a strong contender would be the Corgi Crime paperback edition from 1965 of a book published a couple of years earlier. The author was Lucille Fletcher, ex-wife of Bernard Herrmann and famed for her radio play (later filmed and novelised) Sorry, Wrong Number. The novel was ...And Presumed Dead.

So what did Corgi have to say? The blurb begins in breathless, conspiratorial fashion: "We are pledged to remain completely silent about the plot of this extraordinary novel." Wow! It gets better."So brilliantly constructed is it that even the smallest preview would detract from its shattering, agonising suspense." Gosh! And a few lines later the blurb concludes with the modest claim that the story "establishes an entirely new landmark in the literature of suspense."

I'm not pledged to silence, so I can say that this is an interesting version of the "woman in jeopardy" novel, and it's set in a fictitious town in Switzerland. The events take place in 1951, and this is significant; it wouldn't have been easy to set this particular story in the 1960s, when it was written. We follow the misadventures of Julia, whose beloved husband Russ was an airman who went missing during the war. She has followed Russ' mother to Alpenstadt, and it soon begins to look as though the older woman has something to hide.

Lucille Fletcher was not only a successful exponent of the suspense story, she was also a pretty good prose stylist. Yes, there are one or two overwrought passages, but there are also several memorable and gripping scenes, some of which have a Gothic flavour (there's even a ruined castle). The solution to the mystery of Alpenstadt does indeed take the story in an unexpected, and on the whole satisfactory, direction. Is this novel a landmark of suspense? I don't really think so. That blurb raised my expectations extremely high, and they weren't met. But even if it's not as extraordinary or as brilliant as Corgi claimed, it's still a good story. A period piece, yes, but worth reading, not least as an example of Fletcher's skill in building and maintaining tension.

3 comments:

TracyK said...

This book was just recently recommended to me, so I am glad to see another review of it. I will definitely be finding a copy of it to read soon.

TracyK said...

This book was just recently recommended to me, so I am glad to see another review of it. I will definitely be finding a copy of it to read soon.

Christopher Greaves said...

The blurb certainly sounds a little more excited than one I saw on a book from the same period recently: 'keeps boredom at bay'!

I read this while flying through turbulence back from Italy. The woman in the next seat was praying feverishly - it added to the atmosphere nicely.