Greek Tragedy Meets 1960s America in The Evil Wish (1962) by Jean Potts

As promised here is my next Potts review, which again being a Stark House edition means further nuggets of insight from John Norris, who says that this novel is ‘perhaps the most original novel of her entire career. Potts’ ingenuity lies in the exploration of evil deeds not carried out and the festering remains of criminality that never come to fruition.’ Again, John hits the nail on the head with this statement, which has no need for poetic license.

The plot concerns two grown up sisters, Marcia and Lucy, who have had their adult lives shaped for better, but mostly for the worse by their tyrannical father, who is a doctor. At least they always thought they had some kind of financial security. That is until they overhear his plans to marry his office nurse and enough remarks slip from his mouth that it becomes evident he is happy for his soon to be wife to make life so unbearable his two daughters will simply have to move out. Marcia, who has a job is better able to face facts, or so it seems, whilst Lucy who has stayed at home to care for her father, receives the greater shock and the deeper blow.

With a matter of weeks until the marriage takes place, disillusionment with their father leads to the idea of murder boldly jumping into the minds of these two women. No natural killers, formulating a plan takes time and false starts. Eventually they are primed and ready, but just as they are about to strike their victim is taken from them. Surely now all their dreams and wishes can come true? And with no cost. Right? Wrong! It is only after these opening events that Potts begins to show the true nature of the story she is about to tell…

Overall Thoughts

With such a setup as Marcia and Lucy, it would be easy to assume that Marcia is the component cool headed one and that Lucy is the timid and emotionally overwrought and weak one. Yet Potts defies such assumptions with her characterisation. Marcia is highly dependent on alcohol and despite being more streetwise commits many foolish mistakes, (though in some ways she still carries a Marian Halcombe vibe to her character). It would be going too far to say Lucy rises out of her parent’s death like a phoenix, as if the strength she developed was like a plant, I would say it was a plant grown in the very toxic soil of paranoia and childish anger. The tragic thing of course is that both their lives could have taken a very different course and though the nod to Greek tragedy is even more pronounced in this piece, than the last Potts’ novel I reviewed. The protagonists really do perpetuate and engineer their own downfalls, despite several times arising where the situation could be retrieved. Nevertheless I think the reader, as the book progresses, falls in line with fatalistic air of the story. Additionally, you could even argue that the tenants that rent floors from Marcia and Lucy form a Greek chorus of sorts, commenting on events – although interestingly their interpretations are not always correct.

Potts’ book also provides a fascinating exploration of the killer’s mindset, preponing that a person does not cross the line once the killing has happened, but at the moment they decide to plan it. Furthermore, this then becomes a book which looks at what happens psychologically when someone who desires to kill has their victim taken from them. However, what makes this a truly ‘original’ tale is the way Potts handles the blackmail aspect of the plot (not a spoiler, as it comes up quite early), taking it in directions I’ve not really seen before, keeping you guessing for most of the book. The ending of course is mind blowing, not with loud explosions, but with terrifying acceptance.

This is very much a must read and I am keen to read more by this brilliant author. So, if you have some favourite titles by this author, I am very looking for suggestions!

Rating: 5/5

Source: Review Copy (Stark House)

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): In the Medical Field

See also: Here are links to reviews of this title by John Norris and Dead yesterday blog.

10 comments

  1. While I have heard of Jean Potts, I have never so much as seen a copy of one of her books. Which I guess makes her perfect for re-issues such as this one. Thanks for the review.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Did I hear the word “Suggestions”?

    Death of a Stray Cat which I mentioned yesterday is the one you should read next as it is a wonderful book and also the closest thing to a traditional whodunit she ever wrote (the murderer and their motive caught me completely off guard)

    I also recommend The Man With the Cane which I read earlier this year and is another winner, though less clever – but Potts as you know by now is a writer with lots to offer beyond the always competent plotting. Something that never ceases amazing me about her and her “sisters in crime” is how original and ambitious they were at a time when crime fiction was largely seen as entertainment only and treated as such by publishers, critics and readers. That period really needs a name of its own.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Now, the 5/5 rating is tempting me to purchase a copy via my local Kindle store! 🤩 But it doesn’t sound any more of a puzzle mystery than “Go, Lovely Rose” – am I right?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No I can’t say it is a puzzle mystery. Much more domestic suspense with a strong kick to it and a strong example of the subgenre. But I appreciate that isn’t necessarily your sort of read. My next read is much more up your street…

      Like

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