Friday 23 June 2023

Forgotten Book - The Brazen Confession

It is safe to describe Cecil Freeman Gregg (1898-1960) as a forgotten author. He was, in fact, one of the genre's few accountants (Richard Hull was another) and he enjoyed a long career. The Murdered Manservant, his first book, appeared in 1928 and his last, Professional Jealousy, in the year of his death. It seems that he may have only had two publishers in that time, Hutchinson and Methuen, and I'd have thought they both rank as a cut above some of the competition. So Gregg is not an insignificant figure.

I was tempted by a lovely inscribed copy of one of his earliest books, The Brazen Confession. He was barely past 30 when he wrote it and the story brims with a young man's energy. It also features one of his main series characters, the formidable Inspector Higgins. But what appealed to me a good deal was the opening premise.

This begins as an inverted mystery. An author is writing a confession to murder. His name is Scott and he exults in his success at having committed the crime and got away with it. Hence the title of the book. It's clear that Gregg was trying to do something fresh here. This wasn't the first crime novel to be written from the killer's point of view, although it did appear a year before Francis Iles' highly influential Malice Aforethought. But writing in the first person was a bold move and after about sixty pages we move to a more conventional third person narrative.

The book is, I discovered, much more a thriller than a study of criminal motivation. The gusto of the writing carries the story along, but I don't think the potential of the premise was maximised. Gregg wanted to write one kind of book and I was hoping for something different. So, not his fault but not a masterpiece, either. However, I'd say this is an interesting example of a young writer flexing his literary muscles and I'll certainly be glad to take a look at some of his other work.


Alan Pendlebury said...

As ever ,a lot of fascinating information. In 2017 ,Nighthawk books ( sic) reissued this one ( US TITLE " I have killed a man " ) and " The murder on the Bus " . I too rather enjoyed the first title , and yet again so many seeming " firsts " are preceded by a much less famous author . Do you think that this author's long term contract with just two publishers led him to be less self critical and write too many books ?

Martin Edwards said...

An interesting question, Alan. I suspect the explanation is more to do with money. It is true today, as it was during the Golden Age, that many authors feel under financial pressure to produce books quickly and, as a result, take less care over them than would be desirable. Of course, a good publisher will insist on editing a book firmly, but this happens less often than one would wish. Often it suits a publisher to churn out 'product' at a relentless rate to make the revenue figures look good and this can be detrimental in terms of quality. A pity.