I spotted Ali reading – and enjoying – Francis Durbridge a little while ago, and I remembered that my parents used to have his books on their shelves. I trust their judgement, I trust Ali’s, and so I took a look at the titles that Bello Books has reissued.
‘My Wife Melissa’ was the one that caught my eye.
Guy Foster was a journalist, and he’s left his job to try to establish himself as a novelist. His wife, Melissa, wasn’t pleased and their marriage was going through a sticky patch. They were very different, and it was difficult to see what was holding their marriage together.
When Melissa wanted to go to a party with friends Guy made his excuses and stayed home, glad of the chance to work on his book in peace.
Late in the evening he received a phone call. Melissa wanted him to come out, to meet some people who might be able to help him with his career. He arrived at a crime scene: a woman had been strangled. Guy recognised her coat. He thought he was going to identify his friend’s wife. But he wasn’t, he was identifying his own wife.
Melissa was dead, and she had been dead when Guy said she had called him.
It was tragic, it was inexplicable, and it was going to get worse. Guy was presented with versions of events that contradicted everything he knew, and with what appeared to be a huge and complex conspiracy to frame him for his wife’s murder. It seemed impossible that there could be a conspiracy on such a huge scale, but I couldn’t believe that Guy was an unreliable narrator.
Guy realised that he had to uncover the truth, and that he had to convince the police that his story, that all of the evidence contradicted, was true. I kept turning the pages, through so many twists and turns. The story seemed unlikely, but I wanted to find out what had happened. and I was swept along, all the way to the very last revelation, on the very last page.
The plot construction was wonderful. It was complex, but it wasn’t difficult to follow. It was unbelievable, but it was logical, and in by the end everything fell into place. And it was a solid traditional mystery, with no blood and gore, no forensic science and technology, just an innocent man struggling against the odds to clear his name.
I liked Guy, but I couldn’t work Melissa out or understand their relationship. And I missed Guy’s emotional response to his wife’s death – whatever that state of their marriage there should have been something and there wasn’t.
I’m inclined to say that plotting and storytelling are Francis Durbridge’s strongest cards, and that his characterisation is not quite so strong. And the perspective in this particular story showed that up.
But I did like it, and I’d definitely pick up another of his books.