Although C. S. Forester is best known, and will most be remembered, for his Hornblower series and other tales of dashing military actions, he served his apprenticeship writing mystery thrillers that are well worth reading. Of these, Payment Deferred and Plain Murder (1930) are the most successful. Both works follow the inverted format; that is, the stories are told from the viewpoint of the criminal. His protagonists are ordinary working-class people who somehow summon the nerve to commit murders, then suffer the disrupting consequences of their acts. Avoiding a common failing of classical mysteries, Forester put life into the plots by logically developing the complications and tension that consume criminals’ lives after they perform these desperate acts. His mysteries then chronicle the killers’ descent into the horrors that inevitably follow. Forester would have nothing of the classical English tea cozies with their bloodless victims, parades of clues, and faintly comedic overtones.
William Marble, a shabbily dressed bank clerk who serves as the protagonist of Payment Deferred, is a man on the ragged edge of destitution, sorely pressed to pay the debts looming over his rented house in a dreary London suburb. He holds to a thin thread of respect from his coworkers and his family, a frail, weak-willed wife named Annie and two children. He would be an alcoholic but for the fact that he...
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