Friday, 18 September 2020

Forgotten Book - Duncan Is In His Grave

When I blogged about Richard Wiseman's unusual first novel, First Person Plural I knew nothing about the author. Thanks to Jamie Sturgeon, I learned that this was a pen-name of Nick Bartlett, who had written two mainstream novels before trying his hand at crime fiction. Thanks again to Jamie, I have obtained a copy of his second and final crime novel, Duncan Is In His Grave.

First Person Plural was published by Macmillan - a good start for a new crime novelist, but the book never appeared in paperback. Perhaps sales were poor, perhaps reviews were few. It's certainly a little-known book, though I think that it is a compelling if uncomfortable read. Duncan Is In His Grave was published by Robert Hale, who were library publishers and, to be honest, a step down from Macmillan. A step down taken by many good writers, admittedly, but either Macmillan didn't like this book or felt disappointed by reaction to the first one.

Like First Person Plural, which otherwise it doesn't resemble in terms of storyline, this is a mystery which revolves around warped sexual feelings. It was published in 1978, a year after Jacqueline Wilson's Making Hate, which was a similarly interesting (but flawed) attempt to explore sexual psychology in the crime novel.

The narrator is Stephen Inglis, an advertising copywriter (as Bartlett had been). He falls out with a client called Frimley and embarks on a childish campaign of revenge. In so doing, he's encouraged by discussions with a character called Duncan, and it soon becomes clear that Duncan is imaginary. What follows is a crisply related descent into madness. The author was no doubt influenced by the work of writers such as Symons, Highsmith, and Rendell, and he could certainly write well. This is a very readable story, and it's a shame that Bartlett-Wiseman gave up on the genre. I can only surmise that he was disappointed by lack of success.

No comments: