Frédéric Dard – The Wicked Go to Hell (1956)

Preamble

As I read and write and think a lot about detective and crime fiction, I’m starting to put together quick, bite-size reviews of the books in these genres. Sadly, capacity is too limited to cover all the films and TV series I watch too, but these might be added in the future

The ‘see also’ section below gives you a hint of the story, its themes, and its style, and is spoiler-free, but reviews themselves aren’t guaranteed to be thus!

If you’re interested in reading my academic work about detective and crime fiction (free PDFs available), check it out here.


See also

These lists capture other detective/crime stories and characters that I thought of as I was reading this piece. I won’t explain why, to avoid spoilers, but they’re associations and not ‘if you liked this, then you’ll love…’ recommendations!

  • Jean-Paul Sartre’s ‘The Wall’

Review (3 out of 5)

The strapline for the 1955 film (this story started out as a play, became a film, and only then became a novel) is a stark encapsulation of one thread from the novel: “a woman uses sex to protect herself”. To me, this doesn’t really describe the novel or its plot, but its 50s sexism acts as a counterintuitive reminder of the importance of the female character in a novel that begins with two men being pitted against each other and follows their relationship through uneasy alliance and back again. The novel could be a textbook example for Sedwick’s homosocial triangle.

The plot had an air of melodrama about it, with a prison break, dangerous intruders at a posh house party, and a surprisingly inhabitable desert island. But I struggled somewhat with the absence of stakes for the plot besides each character’s desire to survive and resignation to not. I had half expected the cat-and-mouse to end in a more permanent alliance, but the impossibility of that outcome feels like part of the point. The mystery of which is the spy and which is the cop – that is to say, which is the cat and which the mouse – is a successful one.

As I was writing this, I realised that I wanted to rate it more highly than I expected. It is the sort of book that fares better in retrospect than during the reading!


Aside – There is also an interesting review on the International Crime Fiction Research Group blog.


Frédéric Dard’s The Wicked Go to Hell was Book 25 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.