John Bingham's Murder Plan Six, first published in 1958, is an unusual book. Julian Symons, who was friendly with Bingham, and lauded several of his novels, found it "esoteric", and not in a good way. It's an extremely interesting piece of work, and it begins with a dedication, to Bingham's publisher Victor Gollancz, in which he denies that he is "anti-police" and talks about his ambitions as a crime novelist.
Even more interestingly, Bingham introduces Gollancz as a character in his novel. What is more, Gollancz doesn't just take a bit part - his role is important from start to finish. Nor does Bingham succumb to the temptation which may have struck some novelists over the years, and murder his publisher... I did find this aspect of the book thought-provoking, but I can't envisage ever putting any of my publishers into my fiction - assuming they continue to behave themselves, of course!
Much of the story takes the form of recordings sent to Gollancz by one of his novelists, who is known as Michael Barlow. Barlow, like some of Bingham's other protagonists, seems to be a rather weak-willed individual. His wife is killed in a car crash, and he starts an affair with a married woman he met on holiday. But when the woman encourages him to kill her husband, matters take a dark turn.
I thought this book began splendidly, but later on, some of the contrivances (and Barlow's endless soul-searching) began to get on my nerves. I applaud Bingham's determination to be different, and to explore character, but I suspect that sometimes he found it a struggle to combine these qualities with entertainment. Yet it must be said that the tension builds pretty well. I didn't enjoy this as much as some of his other books, but it did fascinate me.