Friday, 29 November 2019

Forgotten Book - Marion, aka Murder Off the Record

I've discussed several of John Bingham's regrettably forgotten books on this blog during the past year or so, and today I'm turning my attention to a novel he published in 1957, when his reputation was at its height. This is Marion, and it's an interesting example of a post-war British novel of psychological suspense and irony, a sort of lineal descendant of Francis Iles' ground-breaking books from the 1930s.

Right at the start of the story, we are told the name of the killer, and also his alias; this is rather in the tradition of Malice Aforethought, but Bingham was a writer who liked to experiment, and his novel is quite original and distinctive. The narrator is a youngish journalist (Bingham himself had previously worked as a  journalist) who is recently married to the alluring and eponymous Marion. (Eponymous in the British edition, anyway; the alternative title Murder Off the Record doesn't strike me as a good one, even though it takes time for Marion's role in the story to become clear).

The narrator is, in fact, a conspicuously naive and pig-headed chap, and I soon found my tolerance of stubbornness waning, especially when he confesses to a crime that he didn't commit, and actually serves a short prison sentence because of it. He is besotted with Marion, but some of his actions, not least his evasiveness when the police interview him in connection with a murder, are not only stupid but irritating in the extreme. As in several of his other early books, Bingham handles the relentlessness of police investigations well, and one of the merits of his approach to writing is that you can never be quite sure what is going to happen next. I do find this appealing.

To an extent, Bingham was exploring the areas that the great Margaret Millar was examining in her novels of the Fifties, on the other side of the Atlantic. his work was popular, and Marion was adapted, as Captive Audience, for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series. Bingham wasn't as professional a writer as Millar, and this is evident in much of his work, but the intermittent waywardness of his narratives does have that charm of unpredictability. His portrayal of the relationships between men and women is very dated now, but this story doesn't deserve the oblivion that has been its fate for the past thirty years or so.

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