You could say that today’s author is one who was definitely overshadowed by his father, E. C. Bentley, who is more famously known for having written Trent’s Last Case (1913), a book which once again shows me running against the tide of popular opinion, finding that I didn’t hugely enjoy it. But back to Nicolas, who went on to have a writing, editing and illustrating career of his own. I don’t think mystery fiction was the mainstay of this career though, as he seems to have only written three thriller/mystery novels: The Tongue Tied Canary (1948), which involves a man on the hunt of Nazi survivors, The Floating Dutchman (1950), which later became a film and involved murder on the Thames and jewel thefts. The final one is today’s read. I think the about the author segment in my Penguin edition of the book tries too hard to make Nicolas a figure of wit and social satire, such as saying he was ‘fond of sport, if not asked to participate […] Pastimes include working, lolling, browsing for junk,’ as well as being ‘a non-smoking, anti- anti-vivisectionist.’ It also says that he ‘has read only five thrillers in thirty years.’ Personally I think he should have read a few more …. He might have learnt how to write one…
Well let’s be fair this book is not all bad. In fact it starts rather well, with Philip Geiger, author and screen writer, telling us about his holiday to the village of Sissac near Marseille. When being rescued from nearly drowning, he meets another hotel guest, Tony Roscoe, a famous photographer. To help Roscoe out, who has to prematurely leave back for England, Philip promises to take his car back to London and also collect an envelope from the hotel safe. Simple right? Yet things soon begin to spiral out of control, beginning with Philip’s kidnap by a mysterious businessman. He is soon released, it being a case of mistaken identity, but Philip’s curiosity gets the better of him and he decides to figure out why this man is after Roscoe so badly. He gets answers of a kind when he goes to Roscoe’s London home, finding a less than alive Roscoe in the bath. Of course in acting the way he has, Philip has placed himself in a very incriminating position with police and has also become an unintentional third party to a quarrel between two groups. More pickles ensue unsurprisingly and the reader is left wondering whether he will get out of them alive.
So let’s start with the positives. This story is a first person narrative and unlike some of the books I’ve read this year this narrator tells us from get go who he is and his place in the tale he is about to tell, which was no bad thing. His introduction to himself, mirrored the tone and style of Bentley’s own which was quite interesting and there is also a telling phrase on the first page of what is going to take place in the story: ‘Yet in retrospect it still has some excitement for me, and I hope for you, as well as some moments of thundering imbecility.’ Whilst I think the excitement tailed off fairly quickly for me, I can definitely agree with Philip on his numerous acts of ‘thundering imbecility.’ Initially though I quite liked him, seeing him as an everyman sort of figure, an unlikely protagonist or hero. This is shown in how much he contrasts with Roscoe. Roscoe on the one hand was an adept and fast swimmer, whilst Philip has ‘a low-geared but dependable breast stroke.’ Roscoe finds the food so good at the hotel that he eats ‘like a pig,’ whilst Philip wishes he could: ‘Well, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. I get indigestion.’ All of this makes Philip more of a relatable character.
However, once Philip has found Roscoe’s body, the book takes somewhat of a dive, with the final third being especially dull and boring. The early comedic asides in the beginning are lost and the reader is instead subjected to a long series of seemingly never ending escapades, with Philip usually coming off the worst. This all thankfully comes to a finish, but the ending of the book concludes with somewhat of a whimper and my attention had already packed and gone home long before this point. So I think on balance this might be a forgotten book which does not need to reprinted anytime soon!
Just the Facts Ma’am (Gold Card): Photographer