Friday, 6 February 2009

Forgotten Book - Payment Deferred

My latest contribution to Patti Abbott's series is a book by C.S. Forester, who is best known as the creator of Horatio Hornblower. As well as his swashbuckling maritime stories, however, he wrote a couple of crime novels. The first was Payment Deferred, which came out in 1926. For me, it is a book that was way ahead of its time – it anticipates, for instance, the brilliant Malice Aforethought by Francis Iles. And its relentless bleakness also makes it seem rather modern (so do the references to economic woes, unfortunately...)

I first read the book as a teenager, and found it both dark and intensely gripping (it also has the merit of being short and brisk in pace.) The basic premise is simple. Mr Marble, a bank clerk, is desperately short of cash. Unexpectedly, a rich nephew from Australia comes to visit his seedy suburban home. Marble sees in him the answer to all his troubles. He poisons the nephew and buries him in the garden. It seems like the perfect crime – but, needless to say, things prove to be much less straightforward than the wretched Marble anticipated.

The irony of the story set a pattern not only for Iles, but also for various other writers of a similar bent, such as Richard Hull and Bruce Hamilton. Forester returned to crime genre a few years later with Plain Murder, but on the whole this book, although very readable, did no more than repeat the themes of its predecessor. Soon Forester decided to concentrate on Hornblower. But his pioneering contribution to the genre is too often overlooked – it’s time he got the credit he deserves.

9 comments:

maxine said...

I remember, now, reading and enjoying this book when very young - I read all the Hornblower books and then the rest of Forseter's output, and enjoyed his crime novels. However, I have completely forgotten the plots, so maybe I'll try to track this one down.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm pretty confident you'll find it interesting, Maxine. Especially bearing in mind when it was written.

seanag said...

It sounds like just my cup of tea, Martin. That is, if it's anything like Malice Aforethought. I love classic British crime.

vegetableduck said...

Glad to see you mention Bruce Hamilton too: his work, overshadowed by that of his more famous brother, is underappeciated, I think.

Martin Edwards said...

My 18 year old son has just read Payment Deferred and was very impressed, although he did find it rather depressing (more so than the Iles book.)
Curt, I'm a real admirer of Bruce Hamilton. Very interesting writer and man. I will be posting about him in the future, but meanwhile I'd be very interested in your own views on his work.

seanag said...

Luckily, I don't really mind depressing so much, so long as it's well written.

Martin Edwards said...

Hope you enjoy it. I think you will.

vegetableduck said...

Martin, I enjoyed To Be Hanged, Middle Class Murder and Let Him Have Judgment a great deal. Sean French, I believe, has called Bruce Hamilton a failed novelist, something I think is unfair. I'm sure BH would have been the first to yield to his brother, Patrick Hamilton, but Bruce's genre efforts are by no means to be despised.

I'm doing the intro to my manuscript, which deals with the rise and fall of the classical puzzle concept, and was working on the whole inverted novel idea a few weeks back (have been sick for eight days now). I agree with your Forester comments and also found you wrote on this at greater length. Could you give me the proper citation for that, because I certainly want to mention it.

I think in this case Symons relied a little too heavily on Haycraft, who, being across the pond as they say (they do say this, don't they?) didn't always catch everything. Haycraft-Symons tend to make Iles sound a little too much of the be-all and end-all in this area. There actually was quite a bit more going on, as you yourself suggest.

In retrospect, what's pretty striking is the amount of artistic ferment going on in the thirties. It certainly wasn't all just baronets bludgeoned in their country house libraries (or studies). The pure puzzle concept attenuated pretty quickly.

Curt

Martin Edwards said...

Very interesting, Curt. I'll check the citation and revert to you. I also read one of Bruce's non-crime books, Pro, and much enjoyed it (being a cricket fan.)
Yes, in the 20s and 30s, as today, there were several different things happening in the genre at the same time. It's impossible sometimes to avoid generalisations - but they need to be treated with caution, that's for sure.