Monday, September 8, 2014

The Unfinished Crime: Review

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding began writing mysteries or rather suspense novels as a result of the Depression's effect on the sales of her mainstream books. She was one of the first authors to write stories that asked whydunnit rather than whodunnit--or even will they get caught. The Unfinished Crime (1935) is a prime example of a novel in which we know immediately who has done it.

Andrew Bascombe is a tiresome, priggish member of the country-club set. He is independently wealthy and has been left everything in his father's will with the understanding that he will provide for his sister. His understanding of taking care of her seems to mean that he will prevent her from having any social life because nobody out there is good enough to associate with her. He, of course, has no compunction about making friends of his own and falling in love with a woman who he believes to divorced--but discovers that she is merely separated from her absent husband. He feels uncomfortable this for about five minutes.

He's just trying to figure out how to encourage Hilda Patrell to file for divorce so they can marry when Charles Patrell shows up. In a fit of impulsive rage, Bascombe attacks Patrell beating and kicking him to death. He panics at first, but realizes that if he can just hide the body he may be able to get away with it. But then the complications start piling up faster and faster: there’s a witness who must be bought off (will he face blackmail for the rest of his life?); there’s the dead man’s daughter, who saw him and Branscombe together earlier that day; there’s the dead man’s mistress who suddenly appears. Andrew Branscombe just has one problem after another that must be dealt with--will he be able to keep it together and avoid detection?

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's strong point, I think, are her characters. Very strong and finely drawn--but not always likeable. Andrew Bascombe is particularly tiresome and unlovable...which is okay because I believe that's what Holding intended. He's definitely not a protagonist with whom we're supposed to sympathize. The situation becomes a bit squalid and the reader hopes that Bascombe will get caught, almost more to put him (and us) out of his misery of lies and cover-up than to see justice done. The atmosphere is perfect and the tension well-done. It adds up to a  ★★ and 3/4 performance (almost, but not quite ★★).

Anyone who enjoys Patricia Highsmith or Ruth Rendell's more suspense-driven work will certainly enjoy this early version of the suspense story. I find that while I enjoyed this sort of novel in my late-teens and early-twenties they're not quite my cup of tea any more. I much prefer the straight puzzler--less high tension suspense, a real hunt for the unknown killer, and definitely not following the perpetrator about. I actually read this one as the first novel in a newer 2-in-1 edition published by Stark House in 2013. But I'm afraid that I won't be reading The Girl Who Wouldn't Die and, since each was originally published as a novel in its own right, will be claiming only The Unfinished Crime for challenges.

This fulfills the "Read One That You Have to Borrow" square on the Golden Vintage Bingo card.


Katherine P said...

I haven't heard of this author but it definitely looks like the type of book I would enjoy. I'm intrigued by the twist on the mystery. I will have to add this to my wishlist. Thanks for sharing!

fredamans said...

I think there's too much going on in this one for me. I get distracted easily. :-)
Great review!

The Passing Tramp said...

Bev, I recall I liked this one quite a bit when I read it a few years ago, glad to see you highlight it!

The Passing Tramp said...

Bev, I recall I liked this one quite a bit when I read it a few years ago, glad to see you highlight it!

Anonymous said...

I've got the same double volume, but so far have only read the other one - I really liked "The Girl Who Wouldn't Die" and it is a bit nearer to the classic whodunit by the sound of it.