Friday 26 November 2010

Forgotten Book - Before the Fact

Francis Iles’ second book, Before the Fact, is my latest contribution to Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books. In truth, I hope it isn’t a forgotten book, and it certainly should not be, but the reality is that it hasn’t been available in the bookshops in the UK for far too long – my reprint dates from 1991 and may have been the last mainstream edition here.

Francis Iles was the name of a notorious smuggler, an ancestor of Anthony Berkeley Cox, who first found fame as the innovative Anthony Berkeley. The first Iles book, Malice Aforethought, was hugely influential. Before the Fact is also much admired, and it is memorable, although flawed.

It is the story of Lina Aysgarth, a born victim. She marries the charming Johnnie, but slowly becomes aware that he is a rogue. In time, she realises that he does not scruple at murder. And in the end, she discovers that he means to kill her.

This book was filmed by Hitchcock as Suspicion, but the master of suspense bottled out and changed the ending. It is a very bleak story indeed – the flaw, though, is that Lina is maddeningly passive. You end up wanting to scream at her to save herself. Even so, this is a remarkable story by a unique innovator.


Anonymous said...

Martin - Thanks for this mention of Iles' work. I actually didn't know that about Iles' pen name - interesting stuff!

pattinase (abbott) said...

One of my favorites.

Morgenländer said...

"Before the Fact" is a great book.

It has one of the most daring beginnings of all Golden Age novels I know:

"Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer."

vegetableduck said...

This is one of those books I just don't get. There's some good satirical writing, but Lina is such a nincompoop I can't sympathize with her. I actually prefer the film, because I find the final scene in the book revolting. I guess Cox the "psychologist" would assert he was practicing good psychology here, but was ever a woman so? And if so, does one really want to read about it? Not I! Obviously many did though!

Deb said...

Your comment--

the flaw, though, is that Lina is maddeningly passive

--sums it all up for me. I was exhausted halfway through the book by Lina's inability to accept what Johnnie was. I could understand her not wanting to acknowledge at first that Johnnie is an outright villain, but after the missing necklace, the pawned china, the mysterious deaths, I was rolling my eyes: "Oh, come on, leave him already!"

"Suspicion" is one of Hitchcock's lesser efforts because Cary Grant spends the whole movie being a villain, only to redeem himself in the last few minutes. I don't think even Hitchcock knew how to resolve the movie successfully.

Evan Lewis said...

I liked Suspicion just fine, but maybe it could have been better.

aguja said...

So, you too, feel like screaming at `too passive' characters!

I smile, realising that there must be many more of us out there.

vegetableduck said...

I agree with the Lina-bashers. Halfway though the book I couldn't care what happened to her, she was so willfully blind. I can't get the critics who say this book is "agonizing suspense" or "nailbiting terror" or what have you. To me it comes of as sort of a sadistic black comedy, like Cox was enjoying himself putting this silly woman through a series of mental tortures. That makes the dedication deeply ironic, I think!

As usual there is some good caustic satirical writing though (I loved the bit about Lina going to church).

I agree Hitchcock was faced with a real challenge in this book. He never could have filmed the ending of the book as it is. But the sudden transformation that takes place is not really satisfactory either.

Martin Edwards said...

I've found your varied responses to this extraordinary book very interesting. Love it or hate it, the book is undeniably bold. Did Berkeley/Iles hate women? I think not, but I do think he had difficulties in relationships, some of which he tried to exorcise in fiction.

vegetableduck said...

Martin, I do think Cox was working out "issues" in his books, but then that's what many writers do, I assume.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised in Top Storey Murder, in which a woman gets the upper hand on sexist Roger Sheringham!

Martin Edwards said...

Curt, his restless imagination and fund of ideas does fascinate me. What a pity they both ran out so soon!

Fiz said...

I've just discovered this site! I have both of the Francis Iles books, and I too wanted to shake some sense into Lina - she's too passive to get out of her own way