Friday, 12 November 2010

Forgotten Book - The Second Shot


Anthony Berkeley’s name has cropped up several times in my contributions to Patti Abbott’s series of Forgotten Books, sometimes in relation to the work of his alter ego, Francis Iles. My choice today is the book he wrote immediately before Iles launched his distinctive career – The Second Shot, which was published in 1930.

Historians of the genre have often drawn attention to Berkeley’s preface, addressed to his literary agent. This is where he set out his manifesto for the future of crime fiction, emphasising his belief that the story based purely on puzzle was ‘in the hands of the auditors’, and that the future lay in exploring the psychology of his characters.

The thinking was ahead of its time, yet disappointment has often been expressed in the fact that The Second Shot was not truly ground-breaking. Julian Symons, for instance, rather dismissed it. True, it is really a tricksy whodunit, and the psychological forays are relatively shallow. And the setting, in an English country house (there is a map of the scene on the endpapers) is very much in the classic tradition.

Yet it is a clever piece of work, with Roger Sheringham proving even more fallible than ever in his role of interfering amateur sleuth. You can see that Berkeley was groping towards a different kind of story-telling, and in the following year, with Malice Aforethought, as by Iles, he made a real breakthrough. But The Second Shot is still worth a look.

By the way, a couple of years later, Berkeley married his literary agent's ex-wife. A bold step for any author, I would have thought.....

11 comments:

pattinase (abbott) said...

And twice today, Martin!

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Thanks for sharing your choice for Forgotten Books. Also thanks for that tidbit of information about Berkeley's personal life. A bold move, indeed!!!

It's quite interesting that he predicted the growth of the psychological mystery that has since become so popular. He certainly was spot on...

Deb said...

Perhaps there was a subtext to that preface that only the literary agent understood!

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Interesting! I do enjoy the psychological mysteries, but the puzzle mysteries still intrigue me.

Wow--marrying the agent's ex?

George said...

I've read Malice Aforethought, but not The Second Shot. I'll have to track it down.

Dorte H said...

I think I have read one or two of his novels. I hope they will be published as e-books some time in the future.

Todd Mason said...

Keeps everything In The Family. By the standards of the time, perhaps even doing a favor, in ending alimony...

aguja said...

A bold step and a brave man, indeed! Loved reading this.

BV Lawson said...

I already have "Malice Aforethought" on my list, thanks to the nice book collection at our local public library, but I'll have to see if they also have "Second Shot." Great stuff!

Evan Lewis said...

A writer marrying his agent's ex sounds like a good beginning to a mystery novel.

Martin Edwards said...

I'm glad the bit about Berkeley marrying his ex-agent's wife amused people! A fascinating man, as well as a fine writer.