Friday, 27 January 2023

Forgotten Book - The Chink in the Armour


The Chink in the Armour, published in 1912, was one of Marie Belloc Lowndes' most successful novels. The image of the book is taken from the Heritage website where an inscribed first edition was auctioned for $300 a couple of years back - a bargain in comparison to the eye-watering prices that some other books fetched in that auction. Perhaps this reflects not only the fact that Lowndes did inscribe quite a lot of books in her time, but also that her reputation is not as high as that of some writers who emerged during the Golden Age, when she was already well-established.

I've often said that I find it surprising that her books aren't better known, and I was very glad when the British Library agreed to republish her Golden Age mystery The Chianti Flask a while back. Her most famous book is The Lodger, which was filmed by Hitchcock; in fact, her writing was so vivid that film-makers adapted quite a number of her novels. Which again makes it odd that she is so often overlooked.

The Chink in the Armour was, like many of her crime novels, inspired by her fascination with real life crime. The story is set in France - Marie's father was French and she knew the country very well. Her insider knowledge of the setting contributes to the novel, even though 'Lacville', where much of the action takes place, is invented. It's a casino town, so I wonder if it was inspired to some extent by Deauville.

Sylvia Bailey is the protagonist. She's a widow at the age of 25, attractive and with a modest inheritance. She's also rather naive and impulsive. So we fear for her from the outset. Sure enough, she gets mixed up with some very dodgy people, and eventually faces great danger. The mystery unfolds at a very leisurely pace and by modern standards there simply aren't enough suspects to make the story baffling. Despite this, the storytelling has undoubted appeal and it's interesting to note that the book's admirers included Ernest Hemingway. 

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