I thoroughly enjoyed my first experience of Ronald’s work, Murder in the Family (1940), so my hopes were high for this one. This Way Out is dedicated as follows: ‘To my creditors whose increasing impatience has made this book necessary,’ and interestingly on the opening page of the book we are introduced to a novelist, Simmons, who has not written for years and is forever cadging money from anyone foolish enough to lend it to him. Every mystery reader’s ear pricks up when we see a clerk named Philip Marshall taking the very drunk Simmons home and during this walk they discuss the idea of the perfect murder. The next question of who the perfect murder victim will be, is quickly answered when we learn more about Marshall’s home life. His marriage to Cora is hellish and she has been so unpleasant to live with that their grown-up son, John, has moved out; a move which has also put a wedge between him and his father. Marshall has put up with a miserable home life for years, so what makes him change his mind? A chance encounter with a lonely woman. Their mutual loneliness bonds them, but whilst they are a rather hapless pair, they nevertheless also weave in misunderstandings to their relationship and the consequences of these bring things to a head – Cora must go!
As with my first read by Ronald, I noticed in this book the real sense of poignancy the author brings to his writing and the time and attention he gives to depicting complex social relationships. In this case one of the most poignant is between Philip and his son, and I also felt Ronald was good at conveying how unpleasant Philip’s marriage to Cora was, such as in passages like this:
‘Philip’s supper was spread on a corner of the table. the end of a loaf of bread. A scrap of butter in a greasy dish. The remains of a leg of mutton which had done duty for five days and now wore an air of defiance. A few dejected pickles on a saucer.’
I felt descriptions like this, although short, were far more effective at communicating the how bad their marriage was, than the more extensive pages other authors sometimes give to writing about the same situations. This effective succinct style can also be seen in the way Ronald describes some of the characters, like Cora’s charwoman: ‘A sour smell came in with her. Had she been a house instead of a bundle of stringy flesh and chalky bone one would have said that her drains were bad.’ It certainly conjures up a potent image!
I would say this book is a combination of an inverted mystery and a psychological crime novel. We know exactly who has done what, yet the focus is less on the police trying to entrap them and more on the psychological impact the crimes have had on the perpetrator. In that way I felt the narrative’s tone reminded me more of C S Forester’s work, than say Francis Iles’ Malice Aforethought (1931). Our killer is no egotist like Dr Bickleigh and the narrative itself does not seek to give the twists and kicks that Iles’ text does. For me This Way Out has a fatalistic vibe to it, there’s no convincing the reader that such an unnatural murderer will succeed in escaping the clutches of his fate and that the main reason for his capture will be himself. This then led me to be reminded of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866).
Comparing this book with Murder in the Family, I would say I preferred the latter more. I felt today’s read had much less mystification and that I was less drawn into the Dickensian-esque state of affairs. To be honest it just became a bit depressing.
See also: JJ who writes the blog The Invisible Event, brought this author to my attention and has also reviewed this title here.