Friday, 24 May 2019

Forgotten Book - Night's Black Agent

John Bingham's seventh novel, Night's Black Agent, was published in 1961. In Michael Jago's excellent biography of Bingham, it doesn't get a particularly warm write-up, as Jago focuses on aspects of the story that test the suspension of disbelief. There are indeed some coincidences and unlikely incidents. Julian Symons, however, greatly admired the novel, and I think that it's my favourite of all the Binghams I've read.

We're told right from the start who wishes to kill whom and (at least in part) why. The would-be killer is a journalist (as Bingham once was) and the proposed victim, a man known as Green, is not only a blackmailer who ruins lives, but also a sociopathic sex killer. In other words, it's a book in the tradition of Francis Iles' Malice Aforethought. But the story follows an unusual path, effectively with two major digressions to explain the background before a climax in Norway. It's a relatively short book, and I found it compelling.

I was lucky enough to acquire a copy that Bingham had inscribed to Joe Gaute, a publisher and expert on true crime. The dust jacket bears a laudatory quote from none other than Francis Iles, in respect of one of Bingham's earlier novels, and I'm sure Iles must have been impressed with this one too, since Bingham tackles a favourite Iles theme - how can we do justice, when the legal system proves inadequate to meet the task?

The title of the book is taken from Macbeth, but it's also a punning reference to Bingham's secret service work - he was a member of Maxwell Knight's team of spies, known as Knight's Black Agents. But this isn't a spy novel. It's a study of crime and character, and even if the Bad Guy is thinly characterised, the portrayal of his victims is done with considerable skill. I really enjoyed this book, and I recommend it warmly, coincidences and all.

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