Friday 6 August 2021

Forgotten Book - A Little Less than Kind

Charlotte Armstrong's A Little Less than Kind can be read on its own merits as an unusual novel of domestic suspense, concerning the suspicions of a young man, Ladd Cunningham, that his father was murdered by an old friend called David Crown, who has now married Ladd's mother and taken control of the family business. Alternatively, one can pick up the clue in the title and read the story as a Sixties riff on Hamlet with a fair dollop of Freudian psychology thrown in.

On the whole, I prefer the former approach. The set-up is full of potential. Hob Cunningham was dying of cancer, but Ladd's prejudice against David leads him to suspect that David hastened Hob's death. His interpretation of events seems, to him, to be justified by a coded message Hob has left behind. Ladd determines to kill David, and his attempts to cause mayhem become increasingly deranged.

The story offers lead characters who are equivalent to those in Hamlet, but Armstrong is not attempting to rewrite the play, but rather to do something different inspired by the ideas in the play. She's interested in the relations between parents and children, a key theme of the novel, and in the question of taking responsibility. David's new wife Abby, who believes in courtesy and avoiding any hint of an argument, is portrayed as charming but selfish and weak.

There is some good writing in this novel, particularly in the early chapters, and some building of suspense. But then the story begins to drag, and the finale, though not short of action, is rather anti-climactic. It's almost as if Armstrong's interest in Shakespeare and psychology derailed the story I wonder if she began with an idea which she didn't think through fully? It's an intelligent book with pleasing aspects but not a complete success.



Michael Lydon said...

Martin - what a wave of nostalgia seeing the "Keyhole Crime" cover. I thought "Keyhole" was a wonderful imprint. They printed such a range of good books from police procedurals to classic whodunnits to psychological thrillers. (Including two by Margaret Millar.) The range of authors published was also impressive. I first read Simon Brett, Robert Barnard and WJ Burley in "Keyhole". Happy memories.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Michael, and good to hear from you. You're dead right. It was a good imprint and with hindsight I think that neither I nor some others fully appreciated it at the time. I've certainly found some very interesting titles in recent years.