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.

Lucy Foley – The Paris Apartment (2022)

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!

  • The Abduction (Book 2 of JP Delaney’s Carnivia trilogy)
  • Innumerable Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episodes
  • Foley’s two other most recent novels
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Thou Art the Man

Review (2 out of 5)

This is the third of Foley’s mystery/crime novels that I’ve read, and I have begun to find her preferred structure somewhat dull and formulaic. There is something a little simplistic in the chronology-building through very short fragmentary chapters. The intellectual challenge that it might take on the author’s side to make sure that each shard of prose delivers a clue or plot development comes at the expense of other modes of developing character, place, and plot. It delivers a rhythm as predictable as a Disney movie.

I did quite like the main protagonist here, Jess, although she was a little thinly drawn. I could have done with seeing more of her brother, Ben. Their family dynamic is by the most interesting in the book, but has to play second fiddle to the ‘secret’ dynamics that Foley’s structure requires in order to have them revealed. Paris is entirely irrelevant to the plot. They could have been virtually anywhere. Given the importance of location in Foley’s preceding two novels, that is a little bit of a shame, but in a way I think we can see her setting choice as an attempt to vary the country house crime fiction trope. The way the apartment building transforms into a country house is an interesting play on models like the recent The Crooked House adaptation that uses radically different interior styles to segment the extended family home.

Although the prefatory material suggests that this is the most complex story structure/plot, I think it’s on a par with both The Hunting Party and The Guest List in terms of sophistication. It was fairly clear who would betray whom, and what the main twists would be (especially when they were framed as ‘dark secrets’). I think, perhaps, I am getting a little tired of detective fiction that treats sexual violence/exploitation in quite the way that Paris Apartment does; it was pretty clear what was coming. (It made me roll my eyes in the same way Antony Horowitz’s The House of Silk did, for exactly the same reason.)

I hope that Foley might play around with her formal approach in her next book, as I do enjoy her work!


Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment was Book 48 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

Lucy Foley – The Guest List (2020)

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!

  • Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None
  • Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party
  • Kim Newman’s The Quorum

Review (3.5 out of 5)

I saw this novel on booksellers’ tables for what felt like months and months and months, so in the end I read it. I actually read it before any other Foley novels, and it was good enough to encourage me to read more, of course, so that should be taken as an immediate endorsement. (This is by no means the first time I’ve come into a formal or informal series in media res!)

I thought the location of The Hunting Party (2018) worked in a more convincing way to the one in this novel, which has a certain And Then There Were None resonance but feels a bit ham-handed.

What I found most interesting in this book was the exploration of male friendship and its potential cruelty (a theme in the later Foley novel The Paris Apartment, but only very lightly touched on). This was well done, I think, if somewhat dramatically, and that element was what gave me echoes of Kim Newman’s The Quorum, which revolves around the persecution of one of a group of male friends.


Lucy Foley’s The Guest List was Book 28 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

Lucy Foley – The Hunting Party (2018)

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!


Review (4 out of 5)

I actually read this after I read The Guest List (2020), and I was struck by some of the characters’ similarity, e.g. both novels have a pair of unusually troubled characters, one male and one female, staying at the remote accommodation and responsible for managing the events and operations there. But, fortunately, Foley varies the plots sufficiently that it works! I found it more interesting to explore the nascent relationship between those two figures, as represented in The Hunting Party, than the married couple of The Guest List, as I think it added something to the depth of the plotting.

Aside from the similarities in some of the character types, the pace and structure of both Guest List and Hunting Party are also similar, but they work effectively for the genre. Foley isn’t doing anything particularly ground-breaking here in either novel, but they’re accomplished mystery/crime stories.

I thought the location of this story worked in a more convincing way to the one in The Guest List. The B-plot/red herring (depending on your POV) was interesting and played well with the setting without taking up too much narrative space. Some of the more minor twists weren’t very surprising, but I was caught by the reveal of the killer, perhaps because I had knowledge of the ending of The Guest List and so mentally had it as a template!


Lucy Foley’s The Hunting Party was Book 29 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.

Will Carver – Good Samaritans (2018)

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.

A wooden puppet held in someone’s closed fist. Image by Marco Bianchetti from Unsplash.

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!

  • The Fall (TV Series)
  • ‘Cold Comfort’ episode of Inside No. 9 (TV series)
  • My Sister the Serial Killer
  • The Mothers (novel by Sarah J Naughton, not Brit Bennett)
  • Lucy Foley’s novelistic style
  • Crash (the Cronenberg film, not the Haggis)

Review (4 out of 5)

One thing I love most about this genre is its ready accessibility in all libraries, from physical ‘New Release’ shelves through to collections of classics on the Libby app. That’s where I found Will Carver’s Good Samaritans. Its zazzy yellow cover with a dangling wooden puppet is eye-catching, and the two front quotes promise “crime thriller and domestic noir” and “darker than Fight Club“, so okay!

I haven’t read any of Will Carver’s novels before, but he has two series of crime/mystery novels, and this book is the first in the Detective Sergeant Pace series. Genre-wise, the book is definitely crime rather than detective fiction, though. In fact, I was ambivalent about the detective’s inclusion at all.

Good Samaritans follows a set of characters – murders, victims, investigators, and witnesses – through the week leading up to a specific murder and the week thereafter. We alternate perspectives and first- and third-person narration as we move chronologically through the weeks, with shared pre-occupations and neuroses binding the characters beyond their factual interactions in the world. Carver’s plotting allows us plenty of suspense about who dies, when, how, and at whose hands, as all of our characters are desperate for connection and (to a greater or lesser degree) repulsed by themselves. The artificial constraint of following a week either side of a murder means that there is a nice build up of tension to the central death, but a little bit of a rush afterwards to wrap up the plot and rebuild to the final conclusion.

I found the characters’ fixation on wanting to talk more compelling and interesting than the other shared fixation Carver gives them, on cleanliness and feelings of being dirty. This latter underpins the promise on the cover – ‘One crossed wire, three dead bodies, six bottles of bleach’ – but as descriptors of the heart of the novel, they’re a bit misleading (there are more than three dead bodies, for one thing!).

This muddled focus contributed to my ambivalence about DS Pace as he appears in the novel. On the one hand, it seems necessary to have him given that there are multiple murders to solve, and he introduces some element of pressure. His presence (and poor policing efforts) also assist with some of the parallelism in the novel, foreshadowing a second potentially destructive relationship between a killer and an investigator. Otherwise, Maeve’s character cannot really connect to the rest of the cast. However, a tauter and less thematically laboured book could have been produced by leaving him out, or introducing him only at the very end.

Those little niggles aside, Carver does interesting things with some of the typical materials of the genre – a tortured detective, multiple dead women left in fields, and small but disastrous nudges that unhinge precarious people – so Good Samaritans is certainly worth a read!


Aside – In a British-set crime fiction piece, you shouldn’t really call a detective ‘Pace’ without having some intention of including some police misconduct! (The PACE Act 1984 governs police powers.) We get a tiny smidgen of that here, and maybe this is a theme for later novels, but it would be such a fantastic little niche reference, it’s a shame to see it go wasted.


Will Carver’s Good Samaritans was Book 46 of my 2022 reading adventure. You can see the whole thread for 2022, and look back to 2021, on Twitter.