One regrettable habit of mine is to get hold of a good book and then to fail to find time to read it, for ages and ages. Today's Forgotten Book is an extreme example. I obtained a copy of Charlotte Armstrong's novel of psychological suspense, Mischief, many years ago, but I only got round to reading it recently. My mistake. It's a very good book, and so short and snappy that lack of time really wasn't much of an excuse.
The book was first published in 1950, early in Armstrong's career. It was filmed two years later, as Don't Bother To Knock, with none other than Marilyn Monroe. As late as 1991, it was adapted for a TV movie called The Sitter, though I haven't seen either screen version of the story. Several of Armstrong's books were filmed over the years, notably by Claude Chabrol, and it's not hard to see why. She's a vivid, atmospheric writer, and adept at creating a sense of menace and suspense. Her portrayal of female characters is also particularly compelling.
The set-up is straightforward. Peter and Ruth Jones come to New York City because Peter has to deliver a speech at a banquet. They have a nine year old daughter, Bunny, and they are let down at a late stage by their baby sitter. Help is at hand. The elevator man has a niece, Nell, who will sit with Bunny. But the elevator man, likeable as he is, is naive. Nell really isn't the sort of young woman to whom you'd want to entrust your child.
Trust is a theme of this book, and all the action takes place during the course of a single evening. The principal setting is the hotel where the Joneses are staying, and this adds to the rather claustrophobic mood of the book. The Joneses feel twinges of unease when they are introduced to Nell, but overcome them. We can tell that Bad Things are likely to happen when Nell is around. And the suspense is built expertly. I was impressed, and not only would I like to read more Armstrong, I'd also be interested in seeing some of the films based on her books.