SUICIDE F Gilbert and
Character and wisdom in two civilised thrillers
DIAMONDS FOR MOSCOW, by Da‘ id F. Walker (Chapman & Hall, its. 6d.).
THE BIG SIN, by Jack Webb (Boardman, 9s. 6d.).
By W. J. IGOE
HE thriller, I am told. has
fallen on evil days. Time was when it pleasantly blended the howl in the night and the footprint of the great beast on the library carpet with a nice puzzle -who killed Aunt Maggie in the sherry bar off Baker Street?-what was the old girl doing there anyway?
Publishers' returns suggest that nowadays the puzzle has nearly disappeared, and the thrills come from an adaptation of the Hemingway technique to more vulgar palates. Sex and sadism give the impulses that fill contemporary literary morgues and bring dividends; the great two-fisted policeman of the old thriller now wears knuckle-dusters and uses them in detailed description: while the mad scientist is a repulsive fellow who derives from Freud.
The books under review are not of that type. Mr. David Walker. though he has chosen the thriller form, is a connoisseur of eccentric character, and an amiable satirist of the international scene, as indeed a foreign correspondent of his experience might well be. And Mr. Jack Webb's breathless account of a Catholic priest and a Jewish policeman in pursuit of a clue to a crime and the person of the criminal is a fascinating exercise in the literary-cinematic.
THE diamonds of Mr. Walker's title are not the good old sparklers beloved by dowagers and five-storey men; they are the contemporary swag. industrial gems, invaluable to the wicked Powers that make war on the innocent wherever they may be. The scene is Lisbon, a city the author knows and, it seems, likes.
A bizarre group of international characters assemble around Mr. Beddoes, a quiet-living middle-aged English bachelor in the commercial department of the British Embassy. There is Antonio de Conceicao Carvalho de Silva, a "humble smuggler, brought up to no other serious trade . . . an idealist Our ITIOLiVes are pure, our ambition limitless. Oh, Sir. hurrah, indeed, for the Queen of England." Mr. de Silva says things like "Long save the Queen" and has a wife, Aurora-Celeste, whom he appears to have stolen or saved from a village during the Spanish Civil War. At their first meeting, he presents Mr. Beddoes with a small bottle of Bulgarian attar of roses.
He, Mr. Beddoes, a couple of journalists, Edgar Snaffle and Amy Streulbacher, English and American, become involved in diamond smuggling.
There arc expeditions by car and rapid action, and a good puzzle; but, to my taste, best of all, the atmosphere of the Portuguese capital is evoked affectionately and lightly; the characters are created with a civilised eye for comic idiosyneracy; and the understanding of the political scene implied is more serious than one finds in, say, The New Statesman and as merrily disenchanted as The New Yorker.
Faith in humans
THE Big Sin of Mr. Jack Webb's novel is Self-slaughter.
A young person who danced in a night club, a Mexican, is found shot; the verdict is suicide. But Pr. Shanley, the girl's parish priest and confessor, disagrees. Rosa Mendez, he asserts, was a good Catholic, a healthy-minded girl and, in the circumstances, the verdict is nonsense.
Much of the comedy of this hook comes from the relationship of the
priest with Detective Sergeant Sammy Golden. a Jew Who confesses that, as such. he is not as good as he might be.
Sammy is a policeman who believes in nothing but evidence. Fr. Shanley infects this good man with faith in human beings at least. They go in search, first of evidence, then of the killer. and eventually bring the city about their ears.
Mosaic of action