Friday, 6 December 2019

Forgotten Book - A Tangled Web

A Tangled Web could be the title for any number of crime novels, but my Forgotten Book today was written by Nicholas Blake (aka C. Day Lewis) and published in 1956. It's one of only four Blake books not to feature Nigel Strangeways, and it's none the worse for that. I found it extremely readable, written in a smooth and entertaining style with several polished touches worthy of a future Poet Laureate.

The essentials of the plot were drawn from Sir Patrick Hastings K.C.'s account of a real-life criminal trial. In a prefatory note, however, the author emphasises that "the colour, detail and interpretation...are largely my own, and the characters are wholly imagined." The story is, in essence, about a post-war version of Raffles, a charming amoral character called Hugo Chesterman.

Hugo makes a living as a burglar, but his life changes when he meets the dazzlingly attractive Daisy Bland. They start a relationship, and she gives up the life she's known to be with him. But Hugo can't resist temptation, and when the opportunity to steal an old woman's jewels comes along, he can't resist. But, as we know from the outset, he then finds himself suspected of murder. The police investigators take a tough line, and I'm pretty sure that Blake's account of their approach was influenced by John Bingham; he acknowledges Bingham's influence (and that of Simenon and others) in a foreword to an omnibus volume containing this novel.

The book's strength lies in its account of the relationship between Daisy and Hugo, and in particular in the depiction of Hugo's deeply sinister friend Jacko, a character who clearly fascinated Blake. Where the story fails is in Blake's unwillingness to build on the basic plot - we are told too much in the first chapter for the web to be adequately tangled, given the failure to add plot twists at the end of the book. Indeed, Blake might have done better to abandon the first chapter altogether. So there's no great mystery about this particular crime novel, but that readability is a major compensation.

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