My forgotten book for today is a rarity – a lost book that has just resurfaced and been published for the very first time, 76 years after it was written. The Pursued is the third crime novel C.S.Forester wrote before he turned his attention away from the genre.
His crime debut, Payment Deferred, is a bleak masterpiece, and Forester really could write – anyone who dismisses him because he is best known for his naval tales about Horatio Hornblower is making a mistake, in my opinion. In The Pursued, he evokes the desperate gentility of suburban life between the wars with great skill, and his characterisation is excellent.
Marjorie Grainger returns home one night to find that her sister Dot has gassed herself. At least, the inquest verdict is suicide, but it turns out Dot was pregnant, and Marjorie begins to fear that her randy, aggressive husband Ted was responsible for both the pregnancy and the death. But Marjorie is a weak woman in many ways, unwilling to act. Very different is her mother, Mrs Clair, who embarks on a relentless yet ultimately incoherent plan to achieve revenge....
This is a terrific read, with elements drawn from true crime cases, including the Crippen story. I did feel that the latter stages of the novel were rather hurried, as though Forester wanted to get back to his naval stories. But I really enjoyed The Pursued and to my mind it’s a milestone in the genre’s history. Thank goodness the manuscript, lost for so many years, finally turned up.