(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Winston Graham’s most memorable suspense protagonists are women, particularly Marnie Elmer of Marnie, Deborah Dainton of The Walking Stick, and Norah Faulkner of Woman in the Mirror (1975), the plot of which recalls that of The Walking Stick and develops an even more highly concentrated mystery. However, two characters are notable exceptions to the generalization: Philip Turner of The Little Walls and David Abden of The Green Flash.

The Green Flash

In The Green Flash, David Abden is an amoral loner haunted by a terrible childhood tragedy. His father, an alcoholic who fancied motor racing, died of a fall when David was eleven years old. The boy was suspected of having pushed his father during a struggle, though his mother (in love with another man) most likely had done the deed and shifted the blame to her son. At the age of twenty-four, while working for a cosmetics firm, David is attracted to an older woman, a Russian émigré who hires him to help run her perfume business, though she knows of his prison record for robbery. He eventually becomes the key person in Mme Shona’s company and in her life; despite his continuing romantic involvement with her, however, he marries Erica, a wealthy fencer. Their marriage sours, however, and he kills her during a duel. In a kind of replay of his childhood crisis, David is absolved of responsibility for Erica’s death. The past intrudes on his present even more when he succeeds to a Scottish baronetcy as a result of a cousin’s death in a car crash and then falls in love with his cousin’s widow, Alison. Lacking family pride or interest in his heritage, he turns his back on the inheritance and on Alison, returning at the end to an aging and ailing Mme Shona. The mother he never really had, she is the sole stabilizing force in his life.

Among Graham’s previous thrillers, only Angell, Pearl, and Little God (1970) is longer than The Green Flash, but the earlier book is narrower in scope. The Green Flash covers many years and is a wide-ranging chronicle of an unpredictable life and a shady business world, in both of which David Abden seeks the best of everything. Its expansive plot introduces a wider range of characters and incidents than is the norm in earlier books, though the highly detailed portrait of the perfume-manufacturing industry is foreshadowed in Marnie, with its focus on a printing firm, and in The Walking Stick, with its art-auction milieu. Another distinguishing trait of The Green Flash is that though deaths and crimes occur early, the novel does not become a suspense novel until it is well under way. Further, despite the intrigues that are present throughout and the dangers that impulsive David constantly courts, The Green Flash lacks the tension that is central to so many of the earlier suspense novels. Graham may well have set out to depart from his familiar formula, not intending to produce merely another suspense story, but rather aiming to write a straight novel. Indeed, The Green Flash is as much a memorable psychological study of mature love as it is a crime novel.

The Little Walls

Though The Little Walls is one of Graham’s early thrillers, it is one of the best in the genre, mainly because of Philip Turner, the thirty-year-old narrator whose attempts to answer questions surrounding his elder brother’s apparent suicide lead him on an odyssey from England to the Netherlands and then to Italy. He is motivated by his love for the sibling he considered his mentor and an unwillingness to believe that Grevil killed himself (as their father had done years earlier). A physicist turned archaeologist, Grevil had been en route to England from an expedition in Java when...

(The entire section is 1570 words.)