Sudden Fear (1948) by Edna Sherry

This title has been on my radar since I first heard about it on Dead Yesterday’s blog and the first chapter, in contrast to the subsequent ones, is in direct address to the reader posing this question: ‘So you’re planning a murder?’ The chapter goes on to point out how ‘murder is a tough chore’ ‘for the run-of-the-mill, upper middle-class, law-abiding, convention-ridden public.’ It then takes you through the different murder methods commonly used, giving the pros and cons of each in an entertaining manner, such as in the example below:

‘Item: Stabbing. Quiet but messy. And how many of us have had that course in anatomy which ensures the one effective stroke with instant death in its train? Suppose your knife glances off a rib or snaps in the middle? Where are you then? Isn’t there something better than stabbing?’

Myra Hudson is an intimidating, but much sought after woman socially. She is a successful playwright and she has all the right connections and bags of money to boot. Unsurprisingly she is a woman who likes to take charge and she has no qualms about having Lester Blaine removed from her upcoming production due to him stealing the limelight away from the stars. Yet he reappears in her life the night of the play’s opening. Far from bitter he is keen to worm his way into her life and her heart. The phrase fortune hunter springs to mind and those close to her fear she has made a poor choice when she later marries him. However, as their first year of marriage unfolds it seems he is a model husband. Whilst he undoubtedly loves his new luxurious life, he has never once looked at another woman.

In June they go to Myra’s lavish country cottage and whilst there Myra rescues a young woman from the sea, Irma Neves. Her father has recently died, and she plans to become a nurse and lure a rich patient into matrimony. Yet Myra is captured by her materialistic nature and her fortune hunting goal and finally sees a personality which could help the writing of her next play. So accordingly, she takes her back to New York with her and plans to study her as she dazzles the social scene with her remarkable beauty. Of course, we all know that Myra is playing with fire bringing this woman into her life, though it is not until half way through the book that we see how deadly Irma is planning on being. Myra unbeknownst to anyone else realises that not only are Irma and Lester in love, but that they plan to kill her so Lester can inherit all her millions, before Myra changes her will on the following Monday, (adding a clause which means Lester cannot have her money and remarry). Myra is too proud to tell anyone and instead plots her revenge. She plans to beat them at their own game, but can she do it?

Overall Thoughts

I was hoping to conceal my enthusiasm for this book until the end, but I’m afraid I cannot because THIS BOOK IS AMAZING!! It is one of those books that makes me feel everyone should drop what they’re doing and instead go and buy this novel.

Sherry takes elements which readers can find in many other mystery stories, such as the fortune hunting character, yet uses them in such a refreshing and exciting manner. She really does produce edge of your seat reading.

Moreover, she should get even more credit because she none of the central trio are pleasant people. They’re not people you’re likely to make friends with, or at the very least, not for long. Aside from her money grabbing prospects, Irma is also revealed to act in a horribly racist manner to a maid. Yet, interestingly I felt that the text calls her out on this behaviour and shows the maid in a more positive light in turning down Irma’s apology money. This incident is recalled near the end of the book and has something of a sting in its tail. Though the amount of stings the ending has, you would swear the denouement contained a nest of scorpions. Myra on the other hand, whilst being far from perfect and is definitely guilty of using her money and position as a manipulative tool, is capable of self-reflection and self-censure. This powerfully comes from when she realises what Lester and Irma are planning on doing – a scene in which Myra’s horror is wonderfully depicted. Consequently, I do admit to almost rooting for her in this duel of death and battle of wits she plunges into.

However, it is not just the spot on characterisation of this book which makes it so good; Sherry is also a very good plotter, producing an engrossing variation on the cat and mouse motive, as well as of the inverted mystery variant. The details of Myra’s plans are intricately mapped out, including a specific fashion choice for the intended night. Timing is also a fundamental aspect.

Fans of inverted mysteries often sit there anticipating when and how the plan will go wrong for the criminal, yet I would say Sherry’s response to this aspect is outstanding. I obviously cannot reveal what happens at the end of the book but suffice to say with a mere few pages left until the end, Sherry knocks the finale out of the park. With her brand of unorthodox justice, she presents a satisfying ending. But most importantly it is not one you can expect, and it is the icing on the cake with this tour de force mystery.

This is a thoroughly exciting read, with brilliant pacing, which makes you absolutely desperate to know how everything will pan out. You could argue that Sherry is a worthy descendent of Francis Iles and Richard Hull at their best. Yet I think in one respect this would be doing her a disservice, suggesting she is only a skilful imitator, as instead I would say she very much takes her own path with this piece.

This book also gets the special accolade of being my first 5/5 read of 2020. It is going to be a hard read to surpass or follow for that matter!

Rating: 5/5

8 comments

    • It’s one to keep an eye on as when I first looked for the book it was only selling for silly prices. But then a cheaper copy did come up and I’ve occasionally seen other crop up since. Someone in the FB said they were working on tracking down Sherry’s rights for a publisher, so who knows maybe a reprint might be in the offing?

      Like

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