Friday 29 November 2019

Forgotten Book - Marion, aka Murder Off the Record

I've discussed several of John Bingham's regrettably forgotten books on this blog during the past year or so, and today I'm turning my attention to a novel he published in 1957, when his reputation was at its height. This is Marion, and it's an interesting example of a post-war British novel of psychological suspense and irony, a sort of lineal descendant of Francis Iles' ground-breaking books from the 1930s.

Right at the start of the story, we are told the name of the killer, and also his alias; this is rather in the tradition of Malice Aforethought, but Bingham was a writer who liked to experiment, and his novel is quite original and distinctive. The narrator is a youngish journalist (Bingham himself had previously worked as a  journalist) who is recently married to the alluring and eponymous Marion. (Eponymous in the British edition, anyway; the alternative title Murder Off the Record doesn't strike me as a good one, even though it takes time for Marion's role in the story to become clear).

The narrator is, in fact, a conspicuously naive and pig-headed chap, and I soon found my tolerance of stubbornness waning, especially when he confesses to a crime that he didn't commit, and actually serves a short prison sentence because of it. He is besotted with Marion, but some of his actions, not least his evasiveness when the police interview him in connection with a murder, are not only stupid but irritating in the extreme. As in several of his other early books, Bingham handles the relentlessness of police investigations well, and one of the merits of his approach to writing is that you can never be quite sure what is going to happen next. I do find this appealing.

To an extent, Bingham was exploring the areas that the great Margaret Millar was examining in her novels of the Fifties, on the other side of the Atlantic. his work was popular, and Marion was adapted, as Captive Audience, for Alfred Hitchcock's TV series. Bingham wasn't as professional a writer as Millar, and this is evident in much of his work, but the intermittent waywardness of his narratives does have that charm of unpredictability. His portrayal of the relationships between men and women is very dated now, but this story doesn't deserve the oblivion that has been its fate for the past thirty years or so.

Wednesday 27 November 2019

Bodies from the Library 2, edited by Tony Medawar

The title and contents of this HarperCollins anthology are inspired by the Bodies from the Library conference, which has for the past five summers been held at the British Library and brought together fans of Golden Age detective fiction from all over the world. Tony Medawar, who has been researching the genre for a good thirty years, has conceived the idea of a series of books gathering stories (and radio plays) which he has, in many cases, rescued from obscurity.

Tony is a particular expert on Agatha Christie and the first Bodies book included an excellent rare story by the Queen of Crime. She features again in this book, which I think represents an advance on its predecessor in terms of the overall range and quality of content. There are two particular stand-out contributions, one a long-lost Lord Peter Wimsey story and the other a novella by Edmund Crispin. Rare finds indeed.

The Dorothy L. Sayers story is called, simply and splendidly, "The Locked Room". There is, arguably, a question mark over one aspect of the plot, which may explain why the story (which evidently dates from the late 20s) wasn't included in the Wimsey collections. It's a mystery to me why Crispin's "The Hours of Darkness" disappeared from sight. It's a very pleasing case for Gervase Fen, which is not even mentioned in David Whittle's magisterial biography of Crispin.

The other contributions are a very diverse assortment. So there's a story by S.S. Van Dine,and three others by American authors: Clayton Rawson, Jonathan Latimer (not an author normally associated with the Golden Age, a term which has to be interpreted broadly in the context of this book), and Q. Patrick, whose work in various incarnations I've always enjoyed. The Patrick story is also a novella.

There are several other notable names in the book, such as Margery Allingham and E.C.R. Lorac, but I particularly liked "No Face" by Christianna Brand and the characteristically amusing "Before and After" by Peter Antony. There's even a previously unpublished play by John Rhode, "Sixpennyworth", which Tony speculates may have been written for a local am dram group.

Tuesday 26 November 2019

An Air That Kills by Christine Poulson - guest blog

Christine Poulson is a friend of mine whose crime fiction deserve to be much better known, and I'm delighted to host a guest blog post from her to celebrate the publication by Lion Hudson of her latest novel, An Air That Kills. I can recommend her blog A Reading Life, by the way, which is full of characteristically thoughtful observations.  

"‘Where do you get your ideas?’ That’s a question that writers are often asked, and in truth they can come from anywhere. They can be ripped from today’s headlines or they can have lain dormant in your memory for decades. In the case of my new novel, An Air That Kills, it was both.

At the beginning of 2018 I was casting around for an idea for the third in a series of novels featuring medical researcher, Katie Flanagan. In the second, Cold, Cold Heart I had sent her to a remote research station in Antarctica. That was going to be a hard act to follow.  And then on 10th February I saw this headline on the front page of the Guardian: ‘Blunders exposed scientists to killer bugs.’ The piece that followed made hair-raising reading. It claimed that breaches of protocol had led to dengue virus - which kills around 20,000 people worldwide every year - being sent through the ordinary post and to students studying live meningitis pathogens that they mistakenly thought had been killed by heat treatment. As soon as I read it, I knew where Katie was going next: I was going to send her undercover to a high security lab where the scientists were as deadly as the diseases.

The article made such an impact, I think, because it triggered a memory from many years ago. It was 1978 and I was a postgraduate student at Birmingham University. On 11 August Janet Parker, a medical photographer in the anatomy department, fell ill with what was at first was thought to be chickenpox. It was in fact smallpox and she died a month later. Hers was the last recorded death from the disease. In 1980 the World Health Organisation declared smallpox eradicated. It seemed certain that she must somehow have contracted the disease from the research lab on the floor below, though strangely the exact means of transmission was never established.

I followed this terrible story as it unfolded in the local paper. I don’t remember fearing for my own safety. All those who had been in contact with Janet Parker were quarantined. But to be so close to the scene of such a tragedy did leave a lasting impression. I thought of it often as I planned and wrote An Air That Kills."

Sunday 24 November 2019

Shanghai and Mystery Games

I'm back from an utterly unforgettable trip to Shanghai, where I was guest of honour at the first International Mystery Game Expo last weekend. My first trip to China proved to be a brilliant and at times surreal experience. Surreal? Well, for one thing, I never imagined that I'd ever be interviewed on stage by a Chinese magician wearing a Spiderman mask who happens to be a vlogger with a million-plus subscribers. Or that I'd witness two eminent locked room mystery novelists, one Japanese, one French, crooning Beatles songs ("Michelle" and "Yesterday") to a Chinese audience in English. But these were among the memorable moments of a short but action-packed visit.

What was it all about? I was pleasantly baffled when the original invitation came to attend. I was told that offline murder mystery games are massively popular with millions of young Chinese people. And these games are heavily influenced by the classic detective novels of the likes of Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr. Locked room mysteries are very popular in China (as they are in Japan) and at least twenty Carr books are now in print in China. The expo involved a large number of game-sellers exhibiting their wares to fans. The organisers were keen to strengthen the connection between mystery game enthusiasts and present day exponents of the classic mystery.

So they invited a number of guests, French board game designer Guillaume Montagi, Japanese author Soji Shimada (author of the Tokyo Zodiac Mystery) and Paul Halter, French author of about forty locked room mystery novels, as well as myself. Janet Hutchings, editor of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, sent a video message, and copies of EQMM were available to attendees. I must admit that I had some anxieties in advance of my trip. It felt very much like a venture a long way outside my comfort zone in more ways than one. But my hosts looked after me royally. I was flown out business class, taken on sight-seeing trips and also had the pleasure of visiting the home of Elliot Han, whose collection of signed and inscribed classic crime is quite breathtakingly impressive. A number of rare inscribed classics by the likes of Christie, Carr, Queen, Stout, and E.C. Bentley (Trent's Last Case, a first edition inscribed to John Arlott of all people) were on display at the expo.

The expo was attended by thousands of people (up to 5000, I was told, on the Saturday alone) and what struck me very, very forcibly was their youth. I hardly met a single Chinese person under the age of 35, and believe me, I met a lot of people in the course of a short trip. Their enthusiasm for mystery fiction and the classic examples of the form is palpable. It's really quite exciting. As for the mystery games, Paul, Soji, and I each took part in one of these games. They can last for up to seven hours, but ours were restricted to two hours. It was very much an interactive experience - this is clearly part of the appeal: the games have a social side. I played with a group of four women and one man (the games are equally popular with men and women) and they were good companions - that's us, below, with the game's designer. Suffice to say that the game was highly convoluted, and I struggled to keep up...

Image may contain: 7 people, including Martin Edwards, people smiling, people standing

As well as my appearances on stage with Paul, Guillaume, and Soji, I was asked to give a short talk on British mystery games at the Guoman Hotel, where I was staying, and a lecture on classic UK fiction and the Detection Club. The latter was held in the historic Sinan Mansions, and I was startled to be greeted by a packed, standing-room-only crowd. Watching people queue up before the doors open from our vantage point in a coffee shop across the road was quite an experience. Thankfully, I had a very capable and charming young translator.

My hosts were delightful. Special thanks to Fei Wu, who went to great lengths to make sure I had a great time - and that the meals suited my rather narrow tastes perfectly. Fei Wu is himself a crime writer to watch. He was the first from China to contribute a story to EQMM and he has just produced his first novel, The Lost Winner, which is a highly innovative book. I hope to host a guest post from him in due course to tell you more about it. I was, of course, pleased to meet Paul and his wife Martine and Soji and to ask them to sign my copies of their books. The group who worked hard to look after us included Daisy Suo, Zheng Liu, Fan, Mr Weird the magician and vlogger, and Elliot, and I met a good many pleasant crime fans. All these young people made a great impression on me, and I feel that the detective story in China is not only safe in their hands but also promises to have an exciting future.

Friday 22 November 2019

Forgotten Book - The Eighth Circle

Is The Eighth Circle a truly forgotten book? After all, it did win the Edgar from the MWA for best novel in 1959 and by then, when he was still in his early 40s, he'd already won two previous Edgars, for short stories. In later life, he'd become an MWA Grand Master. So this was a major book by a highly successful author. And it would be wrong to describe it as obscure. But I think it's fair to say that nowadays, it's far from well-known, and I must admit that I've owned my copy, a tattered green Penguin, for a long time without feeling moved to read it.

But finally I've done so, and although I don't think it's an absolute masterpiece - not as stunning as some of Ellin's brilliant short stories, such as "The Question", for example - it's a very good novel, a private eye story with a difference. Written at the same time that Ross Macdonald was establishing himself as the heir to Raymond Chandler, it's an attempt to get away from the traditional American p.i. story. And at the time of its appearance, I'm sure it struck a fresh note.

We see events from the perspective of Murray Kirk, a good-looking and successful gumshoe, who runs a highly successful agency. Ellin portrays the business, authoritatively, as being similar to many other forward-looking office-based firms of the late 50s, filing cabinets and all. Kirk's a cynic, not least about women, and has a rather strange relationship with a women called Didi whom he met through a case.

His life changes when he is persuaded to take on a case involving an allegation of police corruption. Murray's basic assumption is that the police are corrupt, and when he falls in love with the girlfriend of his ultimate client, a rather unappealing cop, he sets about trying to prove to her that the man is crooked. Things do not, however, go according to plan.

It's a long novel, and there isn't a huge amount of action or convoluted plotting. Nor are there as many snappy lines as you find in the Ross Macdonald books. Nevertheless, it's consistently engaging, with some very well-defined characters. I enjoyed it, as I always enjoy reading Ellin. He was a highly accomplished crime writer, and I think there's a simple reason why his reputation has faded a little. It's just because he never repeated himself. He wasn't a series writer, and he never followed fashion or a formula. Admirable. 

Monday 18 November 2019


I've rhapsodised more than once about Talking Pictures TV. In addition to bringing back a host of minor but often interesting B-movies, they have screened a number of interesting British TV series from the past. I've enjoyed Scotland Yard and the Edgar Wallace anthology series, while the recent Shadows of Fear series (which I'd never even heard of before) was very good. Now they have started to show Hazell.

Hazell is one of the most interesting of British private eye series. It was co-written by Gordon Williams (best known as the author of the book that was made into Straw Dogs) and the former England footballer and manager Terry Venables. They used the pen-name P.B. Yuill, which Williams had previously adopted for his weird yet intriguing stand-alone novel The Bornless Keeper.

The books were successful, and were published in paperback by Penguin. There were, alas, only three of them, but they spawned a TV series with Nicholas Ball, then quite a big star, as James Hazell, the Cockney answer to Philip Marlowe. There were over 20 episodes, and I saw a few of them at the time, but now I've caught up with the first in the series.

Hazell Plays Solomon is based on the first of the novels, and it benefits from a strong and engaging plot. Our lad is hired by a flash lawyer to trace the daughter of an American client (played by Jane Asher) and gets into personal and professional complications. It's rather snappily done, and I enjoyed it. Whether the rest of the series lives up to the promise of the first remains to be seen, but this one has worn relatively well, despite all the flared trousers and macho 70s attitudes.

Friday 15 November 2019

Forgotten Book - They Never Looked Inside

They Never Looked Inside (US title - He Didn't Mind Danger) was Michael Gilbert's second novel, and it was originally published in 1948. It represents a major departure from the setting and style of his debut, Close Quarters, even though it again features Inspector Hazlerigg, who thus became the first of Gilbert's long list of series detectives. Whereas the first novel was a whodunit in the classic style, the second is an action thriller about a criminal gang.

The contrast between the two books is explained by the fact that Gilbert started work on the first before war broke out, although it was only published in peacetime. The second bears witness - as do many of its successors, such as Death in Captivity and Death Has Deep Roots - to Gilbert's wartime experience. The plot and many of the characters are derived from the experience of the Second World War, and despite Hazlerigg's presence in the story, the most intriguing character is the recently demobbed Major Angus McCann, who acts as an amateur sleuth, and whose intrepid nature gave the book its American title. (To explain the curious British title would require a plot spoiler, I'm afraid.)

The book opens with a robbery that goes wrong, and it soon emerges that this is one in a long sequence of crimes with which Scotland Yard is grappling unsuccessfully. McCann becomes involved in trying to figure out what is going on, and his bravery and pig-headedness are characteristics which are evident in a good many of the protagonists of Gilbert's later books.

Returning to this book for the first time since I was a teenager, I felt that it was interesting in itself, but mostly as a portrayal of its time (and be warned, this includes some racism on the part of some of the ex-soldiers in particular) and as a prototype for many of Gilbert's later books. In its day, it was very well reviewed, but really it's an apprentice work, and I have to say that the revelation of the criminal mastermind's identity (such as it is) comes as an anti-climax. Gilbert quickly became a highly accomplished storyteller, and if you haven't read him before, I'd recommend that you start with one of the books he wrote after this one.

Wednesday 13 November 2019

The Looking Glass War - 1970 movie review

I became a John Le Carre fan in my early teens, devouring his first three books with a great deal of enthusiasm. Then I read The Looking Glass War, and simply didn't "get" it. With hindsight, that was probably due, at least in large measure, to my tender years. Le Carre has said that he aimed to write a satire about spying, but I think it's fair to say that it's a long way short of his best work. I thought about giving it another go, and then the film version, made in 1970, turned up on Talking Pictures TV so I decided to take a look at it.

The film has a strong and varied cast, although today, perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that the young son of Avery (Anthony Hopkins) is played by Russell Lewis, who is now renowned as the creator and sole writer of the excellent Endeavour and has written many other crime scripts for television.

The story begins with the murder in Finland of a British spy (Timothy West). Back home, a motley crew of secret service men, including Hopkins and Sir Ralph Richardson, persuade Leiser, a good-looking young Polish man (an oddly cast American actor, Christopher Jones) to undertake a mission at considerable risk to himself. So far, so good. Unfortunately, at this point Frank Pierson's screenplay begins to drag. And it continues to drag, apart from one or two interesting moments, right to the end. By that time, I really didn't care about the outcome. It's not nearly as good as another Le Carre film, The Deadly Affair, which I reviewed recently, far less the superb and much more recent TV series The Night Manager.

So the cast - including such stars as Susan George, Ray McAnally, Maxine Audley, and Anna Massey, as well as Pia Degermark (whose later life has apparently seen as much unhappiness as did the unfortunate Jones') - is largely wasted. The soundtrack by Wally Stott is a kind of poundshop Bacharach effort that simply isn't strong enough; Wally Stott (who later became Angela Morley) was talented, but he was neither Bacharach nor John Barry. Given Le Carre's fame and brilliance, I wonder if there is scope for a remake of this film. Perhaps. But if there is, it will need a much sharper script. 

Saturday 9 November 2019

Arizona, Texas, and the 50th Bouchercon

I got back to England on Tuesday after an eventful (in more senses than one) trip to the United States. And after a few days catching up on much-needed sleep and a mountain of emails, I'm reflecting on a hectic but utterly engrossing experience, demanding in some ways but made thoroughly enjoyable thanks to the kindness and generosity of some wonderful American folk.

I'd planned to attend Bouchercon in Dallas for some time, in the hope of promoting Gallows Court, which was recently published in the US. The trip became more elaborate when my US publishers, Poisoned Pen, invited me to do a couple of evening events at the Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale. So I managed to change my flights and plans and set off happily. Alas, the trip involved a connection at Heathrow where the news was broken to me that my suitcase had gone AWOL. That rather ruined the flight to Phoenix, though I did get to watch a thriller film, Get Out (begins very well, turns into horror hokum) and the entertaining Elton John biopic Rocketman. The latter was interrupted several times by announcements from American Airlines about how wonderful they are, not a message for which I was in the mood. On the way back, I watched the rather lower-key Tolkien, which was very well done if a bit thinner in terms of story than the author's own work.

Having failed to trace my suitcase on landing, I hot-footed it to Scottsdale, where I had dinner in the hotel with Barbara Peters, editor at PPP and a great supporter of my work for a very long time. She's got a saying that I've become an overnight success after only 30 years, and she treated me to dinner and sympathy about my missing belongings, offering me very welcome practical support. Then it was off to the store to do an event with Donis Casey, an author I've never met before, who proved to be most charming. The following morning was devoted to a fruitless suitcase hunt before I went to meet more members of the PPP staff for an informal lunch. I started to do some clothes shopping but before I'd spent a fortune I returned to the hotel for a rest - and the suitcase had suddenly turned up. I was very relieved, to say the least, and it put me in good heart for the rest of the trip.

That evening's event was fascinating - a chance to share a platform with a writer I've long admired, Nicholas Meyer. He made his name with The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, a Sherlock Holmes novel, and when it was filmed, he was nominated for an Oscar for the screenplay. Since then he's written and directed two Star Trek films and three more Sherlock books, the latest of which has just been published. It was a real pleasure to talk to him and I really enjoyed a convivial dinner with Nicholas and our respective editors after our last books had been signed in the store. A memorable occasion.

Then it was off to Dallas for the 50th Bouchercon. I arrived late, but registered on Friday morning and took part in a panel on collecting detective fiction moderated by Otto Penzler, also moderating a panel about setting in crime fiction with five authors I'd not met before, who proved to be excellent panellists. In between, there was a chance to catch up with a host of good friends including Steve Steinbeck, Manjiri Prabhu, Les Klinger, Deborah Crombie, Bruce Coffin, Joni Langevoort, and Shelly Dickson Carr (though such is the mad whirl of Bouchercon that I managed to miss several people altogether) and making some new acquaintances, including Francis M. Nevins, whose bio of Cornell Woolrich I much admire. I spent quite a bit of time hanging around the bookroom in a fruitless quest to track down Marvin Lachman, whose wonderful The Heirs of Anthony Boucher has just appeared in a revised and expanded edition. However, I restricted my purchases to a mere two slim volumes (and even then, my suitcase was overweight when I flew home - perhaps illustrating why relying on carry-on baggage doesn't really work for me).

Poisoned Pen Press ran two great events, one for authors and one for readers (where we authors offered them clues in a mystery contest), both of which were a lot of fun. It's good to see the popularity in the US of the British Library Crime Classics. Over the weekend, I was commissioned to write a short story for a prestigious anthology, and I've already started working on that. And there was time to have dinner hosted by the talented and likeable Edwin Hill on one night and then with pals from Malice Domestic including Verena Rose and Shawn Reilly Simmons on another. There were surprisingly few British authors present, but it was good to chat with Peter Lovesey and Felix Francis (both of whom were guests of honour), Caro Ramsay and Helen Smith.

I felt it would be crazy to go all that way and not do any sight-seeing, and so I spent much of Sunday wandering around the city (and going up the Reunion Tower), while on Monday morning I ventured out for a stroll along the "grassy knoll" which has been the subject of so much speculation in connection with JFK's assassination. Quite an experience. All in all, an unforgettable trip.

Friday 8 November 2019

Forgotten Book - The Far Cry

Fredric Brown was not only a first-rate crime writer, he was also remarkably versatile. In fact, I suppose you could argue that most of the best crime writers had the flexibility of approach and imagination to write a wide range of types of story. That was certainly true of Brown, who mastered both the short story and the novel, and wrote private eye fiction as well as stunning stand-alones. I'm surprised his work is not better known. He really was a wonderful entertainer.

The Far Cry, published in 1951, is one of his finest novels. It benefits from a vividly evoked setting, the town of Taos in New Mexico, where Brown had recently made his home, with his second wife. It seems to me that there are strong autobiographical echoes in the novel, and the protagonist, George Weaver, is someone who seems in some respects to have a touch of Brown about him.

Weaver is a real estate agent from Kansas City who is getting over a breakdown. He moves to Taos to recuperate, and rents a house in which, eight years earlier, a murder occurred. A young woman called Jenny Ames was killed by a man called Nelson, who met her through a Lonely Hearts club, but Nelson was never brought to justice. George becomes obsessed by the case, and tries to solve the mystery of the crime and find Nelson. Meanwhile, he is joined in Taos by his wife Vi, but their marriage is on the rocks, and he now finds her repellent.

Brown was very good at atmospherics, and he conjures up people and place with rare skill. Weaver is on a downward spiral, motivated only by an obsession with Jenny reminiscent of Mark McPherson's obsession with the eponymous Laura in Vera Caspary's novel - although the two books are very different. The final twist struck me as clever but debatable - to say why would be a spoiler. But this is a very good book and I'd be glad to discuss it with anyone else who has read it.

Monday 4 November 2019

Doublecross - 1956 film review

Image result for martin edwards deep waters

While researching my British Library anthology Deep Waters, I consulted a number of classic crime enthusiasts in the hope of broadening the scope of my selections. Jamie Sturgeon came up with a copy of "The Queer Fish" by Kem Bennett, an author and story completely unfamiliar to me. I shared Jamie's liking for it, and the story duly appeared in my collection earlier this year.

Kem Bennett may be pretty much forgotten as a writer now, but in his day he wrote occasionally for film and TV as well as producing a handful of novels, not all of them criminous. And he was involved in writing the script for a film based on "The Queer Fish". This was Doublecross, which was released in 1956, a year after the story appeared in a magazine.

Thanks to Talking Pictures TV, I've recently watched the film version. It's a typical British B-movie of its era, short, quite likeable, and crammed with actors who became familiar to me as I grew up in the 60s and 70s. These include William Hartnell, later the first Doctor Who, and the versatile Allan Cuthbertson, who was a good comic actor as well as adept at playing posh chaps in straight roles.

Cuthbertson and Anton Diffring play a couple of spies who are on the run, along with Diffring's wife, after committing a murder. They flee to Cornwall  - and the Cornish locations in the film are a pleasing bonus. I'm not sure which little fishing village formed the backdrop - might it have been Mevagissey, a place I've yet to visit? - but it's certainly nice to look at. The baddies hire Donald Houston, a local poacher, to take them in a stolen boat to France and freedom. But as the title implies, the trip does not go smoothly... Not a bad time-passer, though perhaps unsurprisingly I prefer the story.

Friday 1 November 2019

Forgotten Book - Skin for Skin

Skin for Skin by Winifred Duke was published by Gollancz in 1935, and it earned a rave review from another Gollancz author, no less an authority than Dorothy L. Sayers. Duke was an expert in true crime who also wrote fiction, and this novel is based very, very closely on the Wallace case. The names have been changed - Wallace becomes Bruce, Liverpool becomes Salchester, and so on - but Duke didn't deny that she was fictionalising very recent events. Wallace was convicted of murdering his wife in 1931, but the conviction was quashed on appeal. He did not, however, enjoy his freedom for long.

In this story, it is made clear from the outset that Bruce deliberately set about planning to murder his wife. Duke was at pains to emphasise that she was not suggesting that this meant she thought Wallace guilty (and thus "lucky to get away with it"), although it's hard to believe she'd have written this book in this way if she believed he was innocent. Her argument, in effect, was that she was trying to imagine what would have motivated him if he had indeed been guilty. This argument does raise ethical questions, although I think it's a legitimate piece of work. Indeed, as the title (taken from the Book of Job) suggests, this is a book with a moral.

The writing is plain, but very readable, and I raced through the story. Even though I'm very familiar with the Wallace case, I found myself gripped by Bruce's story. I have some reservations about the book, but I can see why Sayers admired it. It's a very lucid piece of work. Faction, you might call it.

My greatest reservations concern not Duke's writing, but her fictional premise. I struggle to believe that Wallace was guilty. This is a case which I've had the pleasure of discussing with two considerable authorities, P.D. James (who thought he was guilty, though previously she'd thought him innocent) and Roger Wilkes (who wrote an important book seeking to establish his innocence). Sayers also wrote about the case in detail, and I share her view that Wallace's psychological profile was not that of a murderer. Duke does a good job, in creative fiction terms, of trying to explain his motivation, on the premise that he did decide to kill his wife. But even though I enjoyed reading the book, and can recommend it, I'm still not convinced. I think Wallace was a wretchedly unlucky man, who suffered a terrible injustice.