My latest entry in Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books is a novel (or at least, I think it can be described as a novel) which was published in 1985 and is in my experience scarcely, if at all, mentioned in surveys of the genre. Yet it is a truly fascinating piece of work, which will appeal most of all to fans of film noir. The book is Suspects, and the author David Thomson, a notable film critic.
Thomson himself says that the book is both a novel and a non-fiction book about movies. The book comprises a long series of capsule biographies of characters from crime films, starting with Jake Gittes, the private eye from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown. The first dozen bios include Ilse Lund, from Casablanca, Eileen Wade from The Long Goodbye, and Waldo Lydecker from Laura.
As you read on, you become aware of a loose narrative connecting the disparate characters. It is a peculiarly labyrinthine book, and it concludes with a family tree that highlights a number of key relationships. I read this book when it first appeared in paperback, and quite simply, I have never read anything like it, before or since.
It’s certainly an advantage if you have seen a decent number of the movies to which Thomson refers. If you’d seen very few of them, I guess the story might prove heavy going, and some readers might even wonder, what was the point? But film buffs with an interest in crime will surely be fascinated by this strange but dazzling piece of work. It's a genuine one-off.