I think I have found my new favorite British Library Crime Classic! The Colour of Murder is a gripping novel broken into two sections. Part One: Before is a tale of psychological intrigue, which is followed by Part Two: After where courtroom drama takes place upon the discovery of the crime.
Before opens with John Wilkins’s statement to Dr. Max Andreadis, a consulting psychiatrist. Because we dive straight into John’s statement, we don’t have a clue of what John has done, although the title hints at murder. We gather that John is in his late twenties, married to May and that their marriage has been miserable from day one. Apparently, May and John had grown up in the same neighborhood. May’s father, who was always in and out of prison, had been the gardener for the Wilkins. So May who desperately wanted to move up the social ladder had tricked John into marrying her! While they were courting, May had pretended to love things John is fond of – including tennis, which John is good at – and then after marriage she had made John quit them! And that’s not even the only strike against her! The list why John and May are ill-suited for each other runs long, so it doesn’t surprise the reader that John would become infatuated with Sheila, a local librarian who is nice to him. Poor John fantasizes about being together with Sheila, but it becomes obvious to him that he won’t be able to live his dream as long as May is his wife. So he slyly puts forward the question of divorce in front of May, which of course she doesn’t agree to (The Colour of Murder was written in the 1950s when both parties had to consent to end the marriage). May had got her teeth into John who is her ticket to the life she always dreamt of, and it is clear she isn’t going to let him out! This leads John to briefly assess if there are possible ways for one to get away with murder, so when John decides to follow Sheila to Brighton with May, it heightens the reader’s suspense!
After begins with the finding of a body of a deceased woman on the Brighton beach. All we know about the crime is that John is the primary suspect, and it takes a while for the reader to put together who had been killed. The revelation of the victim and the rendering of the legal process are brilliantly done, however, I will not delve into the case to avoid spoiling the plot.
One thing I admired most about Symons’s writing is the way he makes his readers question John’s guilt. Through John’s statement, we know of his tendency to have blackouts after having too much to drink, and the nitty-gritty of his unhappy marriage. Furthermore, John who is extremely self-aware doesn’t try to hide the fact that he has the capacity to become violent. But is John really capable of killing? Readers, just like the Jury, have to make up their mind about it after carefully considering the evidence presented to them.
I also LOVED the plot in The Colour of Murder – I couldn’t find a single unbelievable thing about it! When I read crime novels I usually find one or two things which seem off. For instance, I felt Emily, the protagonist of the recent thriller The Other Woman was attracted to danger like a moth to a flame! Then in The Division Bell Mystery (Martin Edwards points to this too), the police do a shoddy job of searching the room the crime took place. This is not to say those novels are bad – they are good page-turners and I enjoyed reading them. I merely wanted to highlight that on a believable story-line scale The Colour of Murder is high up there!
As you can see, there are good reasons for me to gush over The Colour of Murder. So if you are looking for your next classic crime read, this is a book I highly recommend. 4 stars.
Note: Many thanks to British Library Publishing for sending me a review copy of The Colour of Murder.