Friday 17 May 2019

Forgotten Book - The Name of Annabel Lee

Julian Symons' books are an eclectic mix, and this is as true of his novels as of his non-fiction. The Name of Annabel Lee, first published in 1983, is one of his later works, and I've enjoyed it on each of the three occasions that I've read it over the past thirty years. As the title suggests, there's a Poe connection, and indeed Symons wrote a biography of Poe. The story also draws upon a year that Symons spent teaching in the US, where the early scenes are set.

Dudley Potter is a pleasant British academic who has relocated to the US for reasons which are at first not clear. He's an introverted character, but when he meets a beautiful young woman who introduces herself as Annabel Lee, he is instantly hooked. They enjoy a passionate affair, but then she leaves suddenly, and he determines to find out what has happened to her.

His quest takes him back to England, where he stays with an old friend and his wife. The pal is a lawyer who, by a striking coincidence (or is it?) acted for Annabel Lee, who is due to inherit a large sum of money. Dudley's search takes him to the Yorkshire coast, although I found these scenes less convincing than the rest of the book; I'm not convinced Symons really "got" Yorkshire. There's also a plot issue that seemed to me not to be in keeping with the fair play tradition.

However, it's a good story. Not up there with the best of Symons, but a highly readable example of his second-tier work. The experienced detective fiction fan will, I think, figure out what is going on, but I enjoyed studying Symons' technique for pulling the wool over the reader's eyes. And Dudley's obsessive search for the girl of his dreams is in itself intriguing.

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