Friday, 22 September 2017

Forgotten Books - The Pyx

John Buell was a Canadian academic and, it seems, quite a retiring person, who combined his day job with writing. He was far from prolific, but his work earned plenty of praise in its day. I came across mention of his debut novel The Pyx, first published in 1959, and thought it sounded interesting, so I picked up a copy - and I'm glad I did.

The premise is familiar. A young woman falls to her death from a tall building. Accident, suicide or murder? It is, of course, the same initial scenario as we find in Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling - and plenty of other books. But the material is handled with great assurance considering that the author was making his debut as a novelist. Buell wrote taut and gripping prose, and told an interesting story well.

His method is to alternate between events in the present, when Detective Henderson tries to find out what led to the death of young and beautiful Elizabeth Lucy, and events in the days leading up to her untimely demise. Elizabeth was a prostitute, addicted to heroine, and effectively a captive, at the beck and call of Meg Latimer. But Meg herself is at the mercy of ruthless men. Both women are victims.

It's a short, snappy book, and given added depth and interest by religious imagery and plot elements. Catholicism plays a central part in the story. I found this book a good,read. The mood is bleak throughout, but that didn't stop my admiring Buell's laconic style and occasional touches of wry humour. The book was adapted into a film in the 70s, starring Christopher Plummer and Karen Black. Reviews suggest that the movie isn't anything like as good as the book.

1 comment:

Brian Busby said...

I'm always happy to see someone discovering Buell, Martin; he's an unjustly neglected author... so neglected, that his name wasn't once mentioned in the Canadian literature courses I took at the very university at which he was teaching. You may be pleased to learn that The Pyx was reissued earlier this year under the VĂ©hicule Press Ricochet Books banner (I'm series editor). We're hoping to reissue his second novel, Four Days, next year. I think it's his best. Do pick up a copy if you spot one. You will not be disappointed!

This film isn't wonderful, but is worth a look. The last I saw, it was being offered as a cheap DVD under the title The Hooker Cult Murders. Ugh.