So today we get the final blogger nominations for the Reprint of the Year Award. Which titles have made the cut? To make life a little easier I have collected the posts from the other participating bloggers, which you can access below:
Brad – Ah Sweet Mystery Blog
Bev – My Reader’s Block
John – Pretty Sinister
Moira – Clothes in Books
The Puzzle Doctor – In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel
Rekha – Book Decoder
For my second nomination I have gone for Edgar Award finalist The Evil Wish (1962), which was written by Jean Potts. This title was reprinted by Stark House earlier this year. If you’re not familiar with the title, then here is a quick recap of what it’s all about…
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.
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…
Reason Number 1 – Originality
The Saturday Review’s Criminal Record in 1962 described this book as an ‘interesting study in psychological suspense,’ yet this statement, in my opinion, massively understates what this book is trying to do. In the Stark House reprint, John Norris writes the introduction and of this title he writes that it 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.’
And it is this which I feel makes this book so original. It is not a conventional murder mystery where you have to uncover the killer. It’s not even an unconventional inverted mystery, as the two would-be killers never manage to eliminate their targets. In some ways this novel is extending the territory developed by Francis Iles and Richard Hull and arguably is a literary descendent of their earlier work. For Potts a person does not cross the line once the killing has happened, but at the moment they decide to plan it. Furthermore, Potts charts prepares new ground within the psychological suspense subgenre by having her book consider the psychological implications of a killer being denied their victim; a plot concept I have not come across elsewhere. The blogger Dead Yesterday, on reviewing this title, wrote that: ‘The Evil Wish is a crime novel in the truest sense, less about the logistics of committing a murder than about the corrosive effects of allowing murder into one’s heart’ and consequences of this corrosion are chilling.
Yet the most original element might actually be the way Potts executes the blackmail aspect of the plot, (which is not a spoiler as it comes up quite early in the book.) We’ve often encountered killers who have been blackmailed and we have certain expectations as to where that sort of plot will lead. However, Potts thoroughly throw these blueprints into the dustbin, taking this element of the book in directions I’ve not really seen before. Despite the reader knowing quite a lot, they are still kept guessing, especially with the ending, which is mind blowing, not with loud explosions, but with terrifying acceptance.
Reason Number 2 – Characters
Given the plot, you won’t be surprised to hear that we get two antiheroines in Marcia and Lucy. Potts’ skill is shown in the way she maintains them as unlikeable figures, yet at the same time grips you so strongly that you can’t bear not to find out what happens to them and equally cannot help but be moved by their fate. It is this combination of factors which makes me find Potts’ version of the anti-hero more compelling than those created by Patricia Highsmith, (a writer whose work I have struggled and failed to enjoy).
Potts also keeps her readers on their toes with her female leads, as it would be easy to pigeon hole Marcia as the competent and cool headed one, who carries Marian Halcombe vibes and even easier to place Lucy as timid, weak and as emotionally overwrought. Yet Potts turns the tables to great effect, revealing a terrifying rising strength within Lucy, that is alarming due to its lack of restraint.
Reason Number 3 – Tragedy
No this book doesn’t anticipate a UK pop song from 1990s, but it does deftly fashion a peripeteia worthy of any Greek tragedy. Sophocles and Euripides would definitely have voted for this title!
Potts doesn’t expect you to concur with the decisions her characters make, many of which are self-defeating, but I think she does expect you to be moved. The fate of Lucy and Marcia is in some ways not made in stone, there are so many cross roads at which they could have taken a different course. Yet Potts’ protagonists really do perpetuate and engineer their own downfalls and in such a cold-blooded manner at times.
I have read many mystery novels this year, but this is one of the titles which I won’t be forgetting in a hurry, as in so many ways it is a highly memorable text. It is a read I strongly recommend others trying, if you haven’t tried it yet and if you have read it, I urge you to vote for it when the polls open.
I hope to have the official poll launched in the next day or two, so keep your eyes peeled for that post.