On the 4th of February Mrs Anderson went into the cellar below her flat to get some wine. Her husband, known throughout the story as Anderson, eventually wonders why she is taking so long. He finds the light switch for the cellar stairs not working and of course he finds her at the bottom of the stairs dead – her skull fractured, and her neck broken. A verdict of accidental death is given, though there are some tentative quibbles from the jury. The story then shifts to Anderson’s workplace, an advertising agency, of which he is an executive. Yet his work has been suffering for some time. It doesn’t help then that someone seems to be playing tricks on him: his desk calendar keeps on being moved back to the 4th, a surprising letter is left on his desk and even his flat is burgled. Eventually, Inspector Cresse makes an appearance in the story. It seems that someone has been writing anonymous letters to the police, pointing the finger at Anderson for his wife’s death and it is Inspector Cresse’s job to give the case a thorough going over. Yet his presence in the book is a minimal one, as the narrative observes the disintegration of Anderson’s sanity and his troubles at work.
As my synopsis has oh so subtly hinted, this book was not a winner for me. It can be loosely described as a crime novel, though at best I would say it was a rather dull character study. In some ways it reminded me of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866) and I would go as far as saying that Symons’ text is a poor man’s version. I should also probably add that my opinion of Dostoyevsky’s original piece is the following: It was a crime it was ever written, and it is very much a punishment to read. Hopefully this viewpoint is not too heretical! What the Symons’ story has its side is its relative brevity and at times more entertaining prose style. Equally Anderson is far less of an irritating whinger, though I find Symons’ narrative focuses more on the surface level signs of unhappiness/mental deterioration, as opposed to the soul wringing of Rodion Raskolnikov. Furthermore, I would also say a lot of story revolves around the machinations taking place at the agency. The glimmer of a mystery set out in the opening chapter, doesn’t really come back into the foreground until the denouement, which is of the open-ended variety. It’s not a bad ending in and of itself, but due to the minimalist characterisation of the characters involved it has little impact on the reader.
I think it is safe that say I will be giving Symons’ oeuvre a rest for a while, a long while, but thankfully for my next read I am going back to a trusted favourite, Celia Fremlin.
Calendar of Crime: February (1) Month in the Title