Posts Tagged ‘Francis Durbridge’

my wife melissa

Between the 1930s and the late 1960s Francis Durbridge was a prolific writer of mystery novels and plays for both TV and radio. He would have been a famous name back in the 1940s and 50s, and his detective novels featuring Paul Temple were widely read. I have yet to read any Paul Temple novels, though I did read The Other Man, one of Durbridge’s other standalone novels – well I was going to say a couple of years ago – I just checked, it was five years ago! So, with lots of Bello books still unread on my kindle from my Bello splurge of a few years ago, I decided to read My Wife Melissa for the 1967 slot in my ACOB.

There are lots of questions in this little 60s mystery, the main one being who killed Melissa? Who was it called her husband Guy an hour after she had died doing a very good impersonation of her?

When Guy arrives home on the night of his wife’s death, he finds her preparing to go out with two of their friends Paula and Felix, another enormous hat box sitting in the hall.

“It was one of those whimsical things in gold and crimson stripes, all tied up with a colossal silk bow; there was no price-tag on it, of course, but with a sinking heart I mentally deducted another twenty guineas from the not very rosy level of our joint bank account. Melissa was a sucker for new hats. It sometimes seemed to me, the longer I was out of work, the more fancy hats she bought though heaven alone knew what she did with them; she hardly ever wore them. “My Love in her attire doth show her wit,” wrote the poet, “For every season she hath dressings fit”. That was Melissa all right.”

Guy Foster is a writer – a struggling writer would be more appropriate. Coming home that day, Guy has no wish to go out. Following a non-too serious tiff, it seems Melissa is happy to go without him and Guy is happy to let her – he will have uninterrupted hours to himself in which to work. Melissa, Felix and Paula head out to racing driver Don Page’s birthday party, and Guy never sees his wife alive again.

mdeLater in the evening Guy receives a phone call from Melissa – only it is soon apparent that Melissa had been dead at least an hour when the call was made, she had been strangled. Guy is immediately put under suspicion by Inspector Cameron – an eminently sensible man, who we suspect won’t have the wool pulled over his eyes too easily. Inspector Cameron finds a piece of paper in Melissa’s bag with the name of a doctor on it – Dr Norman Swanson of Wimpole Street. Guy claims never to have heard of him, to have no knowledge of his wife consulting Dr Swanson. He is stunned therefore, when Inspector Cameron informs him that he – Guy – is well remembered by both Dr Swanson and his secretary following his recent consultation two weeks earlier. What on earth can it all mean?

Guy can’t rest, he must try and find out what is going on. Talking with Don, Felix and Paula about Melissa and the time before her death, Guy starts to find out things he didn’t know – which puzzle him further and makes him wonder how well he knew his wife.

Later another young woman is found murdered in Guy’s remote little cottage, Guy discovers her body following another hushed phone call late at night, again sounding just like Melissa.

“I went into the kitchen, and a split second later wished that I had not done so wished with all the futile intensity we summon up at such moments, when we pray desperately for the power to put the clock back. But it was too late. The girl in the old wicker chair was dead, and I was there, staring at her, instead of being safely tucked up in my bed in my London flat. There was no putting the clock back.”

Unfortunately, the young woman is someone Guy was seen talking to earlier that day as he tried to find out more about the secrets Melissa seemed to have been keeping.

This was an enjoyable quick read – it really seemed to end ever so quickly, but then I read it while I was ill, and sleeping badly, so I possibly just flew through it. The mystery itself is a good one, there are few people in the frame so to speak, so perfectly possible to guess at least part of the mystery.

“Slowly, I reached out and pulled the window shut. As I turned I sensed that someone was in the darkened room with me. I could see and hear nothing, but I could feel the alien presence. I began to inch towards the lamp on my desk, next to Melissa’s picture. The long curtains behind the desk rustled over my shoulders as I bent to snap on the light. A gun stabbed my spine, the muzzle softened by the curtains, and a voice whispered: “No light!” “

Regular readers may know that two things lift a book above the ordinary for me, depth of character and a strong sense of place – I felt this book lacked both these things – not surprisingly it isn’t that kind of narrative, Durbridge is not that kind of writer. Still, the plot zips along at a cracking pace, making it a novel the reader can’t help but fly through. What Durbridge does do really well is to set a scene (the playwright in him no doubt) and to reproduce a sense of threat and unease.

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the other man

I recently became aware of Bello books through the medium of twitter. They are an imprint of Pan Macmillan providing print-on-demand and ebooks and reviving many classic and out of print works. When I recently saw a tweet about Francis Durbridge books – I thought “ooh who’s that then?” Finding out Francis Durbridge was an old fashioned mystery writer –I could resist downloading one to try. A day or two later I realised this was just the kind of book I was in the mood to read during the weekend. A quick and involving read awaited me, as well as the discovery of a new to me author. Considering the size of my TBR I am rather alarmed at how many books there are by Francis Durbridge – including a series about a detective and a journalist side kick, which I rather like the sound of. The Other Man is a stand-alone novel- and one I found hard to put down.

“The houseboats on the river at Medlow have an idle and carefree elegance that is all their own. Nothing disturbs their serene anchorage. At weekends tired City businessmen find that they are not so tired as they thought they were – tiredness manifests itself on Monday morning; the young and not so young frolic discreetly; illicit friendships flourish. There is always love and laughter in plenty on the river at Medlow and the few permanent houseboat residents regard the junketing with aloof tolerance. It is almost impossible to imagine anything sinister happening in this little flesh-pot of the Thames which one of the more enterprising of the houseboat- agents describes as a ‘natural paradise’.”

The body of Paul Rocello is found on a river houseboat owned by a man named James Cooper who seems to have vanished. Just before the body is discovered, a local public school housemaster, David Henderson is seen on the houseboat by the the other man2visiting niece of the local doctor. Inspector Ford, whose young son has a scholarship to Rockingham College where Henderson teaches, is put in charge of the case. What was Henderson doing on that houseboat? Where and who exactly is Cooper, and why did Italian Paul Rocello end up murdered on his houseboat? Henderson proves to be less than helpful to Inspector Ford as the investigation gets underway. On another houseboat lives Billie Reynolds, something of a good time girl, who it would appear is another potential witness to events on the night Rocello was murdered. Billie is quite capable however, of turning all situations to her own advantage.
I thoroughly enjoyed this quick light mystery that is very much in that traditional mould that I enjoy. It isn’t gory or gratuitously violent – like so many modern thrillers, the characters speak properly and with respect, I do rather like that old fashioned politeness. The canvas is small and while the plot is clever with plenty to keep the reader guessing and surprised, there aren’t so many characters that it ever gets confusing. I also really liked the character of Inspector Ford, a nice ordinary honest policeman and would enjoy reading more about him, but I think he must be a stand- alone character. I will certainly be reading more by Francis Durbridge – and I am also very glad to have discovered Bello books.


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