Friday 6 March 2020

Forgotten Book - Hell for Heather

Pat Flower was a British author who spent most of her life, and preferred to set her books, in Australia. Some of her later books were published in the Collins Crime Club, but even in her heyday, she was never well-known in her native country. Her work is rarely discussed and my guess is that only a handful of this blog's regular readers have come across her. But what little I'd heard of her made me interested, and when I discovered that my agent also represents her, or rather her estate, I managed to borrow a few of her books, which I promptly devoured.

Her first book appeared in 1958 and her fifth, Hell for Heather, was published in 1962. Like her other early novels, it featured Flower's regular detective, Inspector Swinton, but this is an inverted mystery rather than a conventional whodunit. The central character is Peter Baxter and we know from the outset that Baxter is determined to kill his rich wife Heather. But will he achieve his aim, and if so, will he get away with it?

Flower is a very readable writer and I raced through this book. My guess is that it marks a turning point in her career, a move away from more conventional fiction in favour of psychological suspense. There are some echoes of Patricia Highsmith and, perhaps especially Julian Symons, in her portrayal of mental disintegration. She wasn't quite their equal as a literary stylist - she has an odd habit of switching viewpoint mid-scene - but the quality of her writing is well above average.

In Australia, she was a successful writer of radio and TV scripts as well as novels, but there seems to have been a dark side to her life, as there was to many of her books; she committed suicide at the age of 63, a tragic end to a career of considerable achievement. I think her crime fiction deserves to be more widely read.


Trevor Smith said...

I'm relatively new to your blog, although I'm working my way through the British Library Crime Classics, and am enjoying finding out about the other crime authors that you feature here.

Not specifically about this author, but I just wanted to make you aware that many organisations feel that the phrase 'committed suicide' has negative connotations, and suggest that there are other phrases that can be used so that it is clearer that suicide is often the result of a mental health issue.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Trevor. Any suggestions on alternative phrases would certainly be of interest.

Trevor Smith said...

Martin, the Samaritans suggest 'died by suicide', but they also appear to use 'took her/his own life'.

Jamie Sturgeon said...

How about 'took her own life'