For my last forgotten book of 2021, something a little out of the ordinary. I imagine the name of Fiona Sinclair will be unknown to most readers of this blog, as it was unknown to me until I picked up an inscribed copy of her first novel, Scandalize My Name, which was published in 1960. Even then, I didn't get round to reading it for quite some time, though I did manage to lay my hands on another couple of her books.
Having now read it, I've become a Fiona Sinclair fan. This detective story remind me quite strongly of the early P.D. James, and even her Oxford-educated cop, Grainger, is similar in some respects to Adam Dalgliesh. He doesn't write poetry (although his creator did), but he too has lost his wife, and is a thoughtful, decent man with a strong moral compass.
When I read the opening pages, I wasn't quite sure I was going to enjoy this book. Too many people were introduced too quickly and there were one or two touches which made clear that the author was relatively inexperienced. But soon I was drawn in by the sheer quality of the writing. In his review in The Guardian, Francis Iles said that she overdid the purple passages and the dialect and I agree on both points, but he also admired Sinclair's promise and potential and I think he was spot on. This is a chilling story about the murder of a blackmailer, with a neatly composed pool of prospective suspects. I did figure out whodunit early on, perhaps again because of the author's inexperience, but this didn't mean that I failed to admire the overall quality of the book. There are some indications that it was written, or at least set, in about 1955-56 rather than 1960.
Fiona Sinclair was an actress who was married to a doctor (as was Phyllis James). Tragically, however, she died the year after this book was published and my understanding is that she took her own life at the age of 42. More than that, I don't know. But what I do know is that she had a genuine talent for crime writing and it is very sad that she didn't live long enough to develop her natural storytelling gifts in the way that Phyllis did.