Friday, 14 August 2020

Forgotten Book - The Unsuspected

I've mentioned Charlotte Armstrong before on this blog. She was a high calibre American writer of domestic suspense. The Unsuspected is highly regarded among her books, and has been reprinted in recent times as part of the revival of interest in crime fiction from the past. So I was delighted to pick up a copy of the novel, which first appeared in book form in 1946, having been serialised the previous year in the Saturday Evening Post.

It's sometimes described as an inverted mystery, but it doesn't follow the usual inverted pattern. Right from the start, we learn that Luther Grandison, a successful stage and film director, is a murderer. He thinks he's unsuspected, but he's wrong. Young Francis Wright and his aunt Jane Moynihan suspect that he's a sociopath responsible for the hanging (supposedly a suicide) of his secretary Rosaleen Wright.

They hatch a plan to infiltrate Grandison's household in order to prove his guilt. This involves Jane working for Grandison and Francis pretending to have married Grandison's ward, who has recently disappeared and been presumed drowned. The snag is that the dead lady turns up out of the blue...

My problem with the story is that the scheme to unmask Grandison seemed to me to be totally hare-brained. Provided one can accept the premise, it's an entertaining enough mystery, with an excellent climactic scene, and I'm not surprised that the book was made into a film, which starred Claude Rains and is sure to be worth watching. But I'm afraid it didn't live up to my expectations, not least because there is little effort to characterise Grandison. He's rather a two-dimensional baddie; Armstrong's real focus is on the young people he torments.


Ted said...

I read this one about four years ago immediately after reading her excellent book, 'Mischief' (1951). 'The Unsuspected' must not have made much of an impression on me because I remember almost nothing about it. But I do remember most of 'Mischief'.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, I much prefer Mischief.