|The Expendable Man, by Dorothy B Hughes, Persephone Books endpaper|
I have been utterly gripped by this for the past two days and utterly amazed that with all the Persephone blog chat, more people aren't shouting about it - because, trust me, it's one of their best.
From the outset, it is unsettling ... why is this respectable young doctor so jumpy and paranoid as he drives through the Arizona desert on his way to a family wedding? His anxiety is so unnerving - what guilty secret lies in his past? what can he have done?- that every page thrums with tension and every frame feels like a film noir playing inside your head. I couldn't possibly say anything else without spoiling it, except that on page 71, Dorothy B Hughes casually shocks you to the core ...
And you realise the hints have been there all along.
This was a 5* Persephone which made me wonder which of their other titles I'd choose for my top ten.
So in no particular order, here goes:
Someone at a Distance ... Dorothy Whipple pulling the rug from under a happy marriage.
Fidelity by Susan Glaspell, written in 1915, and also Brook Evans, impossible to choose one over the other as Glaspell is so shockingly ahead of her time.
Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski ... one of the saddest stories I've ever read.
Miss Pettigrew, of course ... she's irresistible.
And so is The Fortnight in September, by RC Sherriff, one of the best feelgood stories I've ever read.
Still Missing, by Beth Gutcheon. Another page-turner.
The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein, a true story that's as good as a thriller.
Round About A Pound A Week because it brings the history of poor London women - not so very long ago - so vividly alive.
Oh dear, we'll have to call it a baker's dozen, because I couldn't possibly leave out Saplings (Noel Streatfeild) or The Village (another Marghanita Laski) and although it's a long time since I read it, Alas, Poor Lady (Rachel Ferguson) was powerful punch-in-the-gut spinster-lit.
So that's my ten, although it's really 13. But as you can see, I'm all for feel-bad and a cracking good story over what they call 'hot water bottle' novels ... at least most of the time.
Anybody want to argue for titles I've excluded? I haven't read them all, but I must have ticked off more than 60, plus a couple that have fallen under the bed and, I fear, will go forever unloved and unfinished.