Friday 21 December 2018

Forgotten Book - Five Roundabouts to Heaven

I've become increasingly interested in the work of John Bingham in recent times, and having enjoyed the film Married Life, I decided to read the book on which it is (rather loosely, it has to be said) based. This is Five Roundabouts to Heaven, which first appeared in 1953. It's an unusual book, again in my opinion betraying the influence of Francis Iles, especially in the deployment of irony, notably with the final sentence of the book.

The story is told, though, in Bingham's rather discursive style, and it does take some time to get going. The narrator, Peter Harding, is a hotel owner, and the story focuses on his relationship with a friend called Philip Bartels. I have to say that I felt the early pages moved slowly, which is usually a great weakness in a crime novel, but Bingham wrote readable prose, and he maintained my interest, even when I was becoming a bit impatient.

Friendship - of a kind - is also at the heart of Bingham's first novel, My Name is Michael Sibley, and the relationship between two friends where one is a much stronger character than the other, and where one covets the other's lover, obviously fascinated him. Peter is more forceful than Philip, and this drive determines the course of the narrative.

Philip marries a pleasant and attractive woman, but then falls in love with someone else, called Lorna Dickson. Unfortunately, when he introduces Peter to Lorna, Peter immediately falls for her as well. To make matters more complicated, Philip decides to murder his wife. His motive for so doing, rather than simply seeking a divorce, is not easy to fathom, but Bingham makes a reasonably good fist of his attempt to explain the seemingly absurd. The explanation is rooted, in fact, in Philip's weakness of character.

Overall, the story is interesting and out of the ordinary; one can see why its potential for filming was spotted, and the film-makers made a good job of it too. Despite the fact that Bingham does meander at times, I can recommend this one.


RJS said...

Michael Jago linked Bingham to le Carre´s fictional character George Smiley.
(see his recent book Bingham, The Man Who Was George Smiley).

Another candidate was Maurice Oldfield, though more as an inspiration for Alec Guiness playing Smiley in the Tinker Tailor TV series.

Martin Edwards said...

Yes, Michael Jago's book is very interesting, though I think he's more interested in Bingham's espionage work than his crime fiction. I learned a lot from it.

Clothes In Books said...

His books are not exactly full of jokes, but he was an extremely clever writer with good plots and some excellent last minute turnarounds. I got hold of a handful in green Penguins many years ago, and found them very compelling. I suspect I remember this one from your reference to the last line - I must get it out again!
I downloaded a Kindle version of Michael Sibley, and it had a riveting introduction by John Le Carre, in which he said that John Bingham was one of the inspirations for George Smiley. Le Carre's memories of Bingham were gracious and memorable and actually rather touching - JLC considered that Bingham came from an era of more gentlemanly spies. Though Bingham's books are quite hard-boiled in their way.