Friday 14 December 2018

Forgotten Book - Left-Handed Death

Left-Handed Death, first published in 1946, is a novel by Richard Hull which draws on his wartime experience as an accountant working on behalf of the government. If that sounds less than enticing, I can offer some reassurance, since Hull was a writer both witty and inventive, and this book bears his hallmarks, even though it's not, in my opinion, one of his major works.

Shergold Engineering Company Ltd is in difficulties. The principals, Arthur Shergold and Guy Reeves (who has lost three fingers of his left hand), are worried that Barry Foster, the accountant employed by the Ministry to check on government contractors, has identified something amiss with the company's records. Yet the accountant in question, Barry Foster, is lazy, and focused mainly on getting "through his duties easily and without argument or fuss". So why be concerned?

Cynthia Trent, a secretary in the business whom Reeves wants to marry, becomes embroiled in a strange scenario when - so it seems - Reeves murders Foster and promptly confesses his guilt to the police. Yet the police are surprisingly reluctant to accept the truth of his story. What is going on? As readers of Richard Hull know, appearances are invariably deceptive. 

I suspect that Hull enjoyed himself in writing this novel, and I suspect that his portrayal of Foster, and of the haplessness of the Ministry and the people working in it was to an extent a jokey expression of his own dissatisfaction with working for a bunch of bureaucrats. As often with Hull's novels, this one has the feeling of a novella stretched out beyond the natural length justified by the plot material, but it provides an interesting picture of the times.

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