Friday, 18 November 2011

Forgotten Book - Plain Murder


I so much enjoyed reading the re-discovered crime novel by CS Forester, The Pursued, that I decided to have another look at his second novel of psychological suspense, Plain Murder, which was first published in 1930. It is a book which, like his debut, Payment Deferred, has tended to be forgotten by crime fans – but it certainly does not deserve such a fate.

I first read Plain Murder as a teenager, shortly after being blown away by the brilliance, as it seemed to me, of Payment Deferred. Perhaps inevitably, it suffered by comparison with its remarkable predecessor, and I have said as much once or twice in articles I've written over the years. But I'm now tempted to revise my opinion to some extent. The finale of this story is not quite as dazzling and original, but the book as a whole is short, snappy and highly enjoyable.

Three advertising men have been discovered by their boss in a minor fiddle. They face the sack, and the poverty that dismissal for gross misconduct almost always meant in 1930. The ringleader, Charlie Morris, persuades his colleagues to help him kill the boss, and they duly get away with murder. However, the crime feeds Morris' egotism, and he finds himself on a downward spiral of homicide.

One of the striking features of the book is the well-realised office setting. I can think of very few office-based mysteries written before 1930 – any suggestions? Certainly, Forester anticipated Dorothy L Sayers, who published Murder Must Advertise three years later. Her enjoyable novel is much better known than Forester's, but I do wonder if his book to some degree inspired hers.


8 comments:

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

Sounds like an interesting premise. Murdering the boss would be a popular concept today, too, I think. :)

Dean James said...

Martin: I believe Sayers's office novel, Murder Must Advertise was inspired by her own work in an advertising agency. She might have read the Forrester novel, but it is her own experience, I believe, that makes her novel so entertaining.

George said...

PLAIN MURDER sounds great! Another book I have to find and read. I'm a big fan of the Hornblower series.

Deb said...

I've looked everywhere for PLAIN MURDER and can never find it. It's been on my wish-list for years. As for office-based mysteries, I could be wrong, but I think "the office" as we know it (a mixed-gender group of administrators and clerical workers supporting a business or industry that often takes place elsewhere) only evolved during the 1920s because of advances in technology (telephone, telegraph, typewriter, even carbon paper), reliable sources of electricity, and expanded roles for women. I'm guessing that's why there were few office-centered mysteries prior to 1930. Certainly MURDER MUST ADVERTISE is the gold standard (I especially love the woman who has to cover up her arms and neck when a very religious client comes into the office).

Martin Edwards said...

Elizabeth, you're dead right!

Martin Edwards said...

Dean, you're right, she did work for Benson's, and very successfully. I'm not quite sure whether Forester also worked in an agency - perhaps so.

Martin Edwards said...

George, I think you would like all of Forester's crime stories. They were high calibre.

Martin Edwards said...

Deb, hope you find a copy soon - I think Penguin are reprinting it.
Interesting point about offices; I do know that Dr Crippen certainly ran several at the start of the 20th century.