Friday, July 30, 2010

Forgotten Book Friday: Death on Account

Here it is, Friday again. Miss Lemon hardly knows where the time gets to. So before this day gives her the slip, she would like to use it to remind her readers of an excellent but now mostly forgotten novel by Margaret Yorke: Death on Account.   

First published by Hutchinson in 1979 but now long out of print, Death on Account remains an incisive study of the social and psychological forces that drive even the most benignant of persons to commit outrageous crimes.

Robbie Robinson is a middle-aged banker. He's never broken into the ranks of management, but he is quite competent at what he does.

In the eyes of his bullying wife, Isabel, however, Robbie is a complete failure -- good only for bringing her tea trays in bed at the weekends and fixing things about the house. The childless couple has long stopped sharing a bedroom.

When Isabel decides to sell the house that Robbie loves and move the pair to a more pretentious neighbourhood, the sleepwalking Robbie slowly awakens.

And what doozies his dreams have been. Robbie works out an elaborate plan to raid his own bank. He tells himself it is only a fantasy. But then he goes ahead with what is -- with one small exception -- a very clever plan.

As in any good Margaret Yorke novel, the chain of events that unfold link the most unlikely characters in the most intriguing ways. Robbie, who is not yet unattractive and skilled at woodworking, finds himself involved with the young woman he held up. And the reader can hardly begrudge Robbie this fleeting romance.

Indeed, Miss Lemon thought him to be one of the most sympathetic Margaret Yorke villains she's met to date. And much of the tension comes from when and how Robbie's deeds will be discovered.

Miss Lemon suspects that Mrs. Yorke's tongue was more than a little in her cheek when she chose the name for her unfortunate protagonist. Clearly, she enjoyed herself while writing Death on Account. The prose is crisp and simple; and at the same time, unsettlingly profound.

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