Sunday, May 5, 2024

The List of Adrian Messenger

 The List of Adrian Messenger (1959) by Philip MacDonald

Adrian Messenger presents his old friend George Firth with a list of ten names with addresses. While he is on a short trip to America, he would like Firth, an official with Scotland Yard, to check up on these men--without knowing the whys or wherefores. He just wants the answer to one simple question: Are these men living at these address? Firth owes Messenger many favors, so, of course, he agrees. But Messenger never makes it to America. The plane he's flying on goes down over the Atlantic. Three people make it out of the plane alive--including Messenger--but he dies of his injuries before help can arrive. A tragic accident. Or is it?

Raoul St. Denis, famous French journalist & former member of the French resistance during the war, was also on that plane. And he was one of the survivors. St. Denis is very familiar with the sound of explosive devices and he's quite certain that one went off before the plane went down. It begins to look like someone didn't want Messenger to make that trip to America...especially when reports begin to come in on the ten men. Every one of them but one has died in an accident within the last five years. Or what has been officially declared an accident. Firth calls on General Anthony Gethryn, former intelligence officer and master at unraveling out-of-the-way puzzles. Could someone be orchestrating this deliberate elimination of the men on Messenger's list? Would someone really blow up a plane and (in another instance) derail a train to get at a particular man? And, if so, to what purpose? 

Messenger's only comments to Firth about the situation was that "It's so big, and so--so preposterous, I daren't tell anyone yet." The only way for Gethryn and the Scotland Yard men to track the culprit is to find out what ties these ten men together. Their first clues come from St. Denis, who gives a near-verbatim recital of Messenger's last words before his injuries got the better of him But even then they don't catch all of the clues before the villain starts on the second part of his plan...They're going to have to move fast to catch him before he completes it.

This was the first MacDonald book I ever read...many moons before I ever even knew what a blog was. And it was one of the first mysteries I read where a killer was working his way through a group of people for purposes of his own; purposes that our detective had to discover in order to make sense of the apparently randomness of the group. And definitely one of the first where the motive wasn't psychologically driven. I thought it was a knock-out book that kept me reading like mad to get to the end. It made enough of an impression on me that once I got settled in again, I remembered what the connection was. But the book is so good that it didn't matter. I loved following the investigation with Gethryn and the way he worked with St. Denis in the last half of the book. And I still love the poetic justice (mentioned in the last line of the book--below) that comes to the killer in the end. 

Outstanding book that was made into a movie in 1963 with Kirk Douglas and George C. Scott (among others). Now I just need to find time to sit down and watch it too. ★★★★

First line:For several years after it was all over, there was understandable resistance in high places to the public telling of the story, and even now the project is eyed askance.

Last line: "What you would call, I think, a justice poetic..."


Deaths =  14 (two airplane (bomb); one cycling accident; three fell from height; four car/motorbike accident; two drowned; one shot; one hit by a bus)


Marty said...

The movie has a weird gimmick which, to me anyway, detracted from the story. I couldn't say how closely it followed the book in general, but the ending was changed (although the result was the same). Marty

Bev Hankins said... I'm really curious to see the movie. Just to see what the gimmick is. :-)

BillS said...

I saw the film many years ago. It's full of big stars heavily disguised who unmaked in the closing credits .That's all I remember. If that's a spoiler , please delete the comment.

Bev Hankins said...

From the book plot, I don't see how that would be a spoiler.