Friday 2 August 2013

Forgotten Book - Vantage Striker

My Forgotten Book for today dates back to 1931, and was written by an Australian who made her home in England. Helen Simpson, an early member of the Detection Club, was a close friend of Dorothy L. Sayers, although her books were very different. Two of them were made into films by Alfred Hitchcock, an indication of her significance. Yet perhaps because she died young, at the age of 42, she is seldom mentioned in discussions about the Golden Age.

Vantage Striker is an odd title, which may have contributed to its neglect. In the US, it was called The Prime Minister is Dead, which at least gives some idea of the story. It's a strange and very unusual book, with a number of interesting elements, though the story meanders, and it's a very long way indeed from the tightly written stories which Agatha Christie was producing at the same time. I mentioned the book to a crime writing friend, who then not only found a copy but kindly loaned it to me, a generous gesture with a novel so scarce.

The story opens with a boxing match, and a game of tennis plays a part in the story. There's a love affair and quite a bit of politics, and also a plot dependent on medical knowledge. Simpson's husband was a prominent medic, and it's safe to assume that he contributed the necessary technical expertise.I find it difficult to say much more about the story without ruining it. Suffice to say that it's not really about whodunit, but more about how a tricky dilemma can be worked out.

So how do I rate it? That's also hard to answer, because although it's a quick read, I found it dated and included quite a bit of padding. The story itself was thin. But the ideas behind it are genuinely interesting, and Simpson's unorthodox approach results into a novel about crime, rather than a detective novel, that is far removed from the stereotypical Golden Age mystery. A historical curiosity of genuine interest is how I'd sum it up. But it's rare,at least in the original print edition. A good example, perhaps, of a book that will benefit from digital publishing.


J F Norris said...

I only know of the Sir John Saumerez books she wrote with Clemence Dane. I found it very hard to get involved with the story and characters in ENTER SIR JOHN. I've never seen the other Sir John book the two wrote but, to be honest, I haven't really been interested in finding it. Simpson was also close with Gladys Mitchell, wasn't she? Their trade off of Sir John and Mrs Bradley in ASK A POLICEMAN is one of the highlights of that round robin effort.

Ted said...

Martin, One very slight correction ... my worldcat search shows that the US title was 'The Prime Minister is Dead'.

Martin Edwards said...

John, you are right, she and Gladys were good friends. I haven't seen the other joint efforts either. Pretty rare, I guess.
Ted, you're spot on, thanks.