A Charitable End was Jessica Mann’s first novel, published back in 1971. I was pleased to find a first edition in Jamie Sturgeon’s last catalogue, and couldn’t resist the temptation to snap it up.
The novel was a Collins Crime Club title. So many splendid books were produced under that imprint over the years. I still can’t understand why the publishers abandoned it after the retirement of the legendary editor, Elizabeth Walter. She had an eye for talent, and clearly she took to Mann’s elegant prose style.
The setting is Edinburgh, and a middle-class world where well-off people pursue charitable activities in their leisure time, before the cosy status quo is shattered by a sudden death, and a sequence of poison pen letters. The narrator is a young woman who has been conducting an affair with the deceased’s husband, and Mann examines the tension s beneath the surface calm with some accomplishment.
The narrative is far from orthodox, but it never sinks into self-indulgence. The main focus is on the lives of the female characters, rather than on detection, but in the end, the mystery is rather neatly unravelled. At the time, naturally, Mann was feeling her way as a crime writer, but the assurance of her debut promised good things to come, a promise on which, in the intervening years, she has delivered.
I’ve quizzed Jessica Mann about the background to this book, and to my delight she has agreed to write a post for this blog which will say a bit more about it. Watch this space!