A shy, frustrated London husband’s infatuation with another woman ends in murder in this reprint of a 1957 book, which won the Crime Writers Association Best Novel award on its first publication.
John Wilkins isn’t looking for an affair. He’s not looking for much of anything at all: not acceptance of his proposal to merge the Palings department store’s Complaints Department, where he works, with its Service Department; not the raise he assures his standoffish wife, May, he’s going to get one of these days; not even May's demonstrated affection. But once he meets librarian Sheila Morton, an equally harmless soul who pretends greater interest in him than she actually feels, he can’t help fantasizing about her and their future together, and the periodic blackouts he’s suffered for several years become more frequent, more severe, and more troubling. When Sheila announces that she’s taking a vacation in Brighton, Wilkins talks May into booking a stay at a hotel a few blocks away, and it’s in Brighton that matters come to a head, setting up a long confession Wilkins makes to a sympathetic psychotherapist and an equally long trial for murder. To say more would spoil the surprises planted by Symons (Playing Happy Families, 1994, etc.), whose love/hate relationship with the tropes of the classic British mystery continued throughout his long career. This time, he achieves perhaps his most successful melding of sociological analysis, golden-age whodunit tropes, and darkly satirical sendups of the very conventions he relies on to structure this unexpectedly moving tale of a deeply ordinary man all too easily moved.
This perfect choice for Poisoned Pen’s British Library Crime Classics series wears its 60 years with surprising lightness. Now how about some Henry Wade?