Friday, April 16, 2021

19. The Unsuspected by Charlotte Armstrong

I am starting to see a pattern in Charlotte Armstrong's work.  The climax often involves somebody trapped somewhere with limited time before they will be killed, while one or two people desperately try to find them and convince the authorities.  In one, the guy was trapped in the basement of a house about to be demolished.  I also have a better grasp of her tone.  When I first started reading her, the outer and inner dialogue felt stilted and uncertain which made the characters seem unreliable.  Now I think that is more her style and is intended to give an immersive feel to the reader.  So I found myself better able to just sit back and enjoy the narrative.

The setup is Francis has returned from WWII and discovered his childhood love has hanged herself while in the employ of a much-loved retired film-producer.  His sister has already gained employment at the producer's house to follow up on her suspicions.  Francis pretends to be the husband of the recently drowned daughter of the producer to also insinuate himself into the household, but his plot gets thrown for a serious wrinkle when the daughter shows up alive.  It is a psychological game of cat and mouse as Francis and his sister try to find proof that the suicide was murder while the daughter struggles with her own reality.  The producer is a real trip, super charismatic and manipulative with an almost spell-like voice.

I find the interactions a little too hesitant in this book.  Armstrong does a great job of building up tension but there isn't quite enough release for my taste.  The fun is in the hidden conflicts as people try to communicate with a mix of lies and truth.  The ending here, though, was quite exciting which kept me turning the pages.  I'll try not to be too spoilery but leave this to remind myself that it involved garbage men and a trunk.

They made a movie out of it and Claude Rains is the perfect actor to play the producer.

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