Monday, October 11, 2010

The Smooth Face of Evil

Miss Lemon recently took a holiday jaunt to New York City, where she spent time browsing in The Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street in TriBeCa. This august emporium (devotedly exclusively, one might guess, to Miss Lemon's favourite subject) is the place in North America to acquire new, second-hand and rare copies of a broad range of the novels of crime, mystery and suspense most worth having.

To wit, for $3 Miss Lemon picked up The Smooth Face of Evil (1984), a gripping tale of vintage psychological suspense by Margaret Yorke.

If it is cliche to say that once she began reading this story about the smooth talking con artist who meets with his comeuppance in a most unexpected way, she could not put it down -- well then, you will have to excuse Miss Lemon's triteness, for it is the truth.

From the moment Terry Brett smashes his stolen Vauxhall into Alice Armitage's illicitly borrowed Volvo, and then alters the details of the event to make things seem like they happened the other way round, Miss Lemon was hooked. She suspects her readers will be, too.

As is her wont, Ms. Yorke graces The Smooth Face of Evil with the most telling points of psychological detail. Alice Armitage, for instance, is a lonely and aging (though in now way frail or elderly) widow who is manipulated into going to live with her son, Giles, and daughter-in-law Helen far from the Bournemouth coast where she lived independently and happily. When Alice arrives at Harcombe House, she quickly sees that she is welcome only for the money she brings from the sale of her house, as Helen quickly dispatches her to a frigid attic apartment. In short, isolated and unwelcome, she is ripe for conning.

Terry Brett is the sort who can talk his way out of trouble and into the hearts and purses of even the most worldly of British housewives. The rewards for these endeavours, along with an occasional car theft, are handsome.

Sue Norris, a tenant of the Harcombe House Lodge, who lives there, unmarried, with Jonathan, meets Terry after the smashup. Worldly is not quite the way to describe Sue. Despite Terry's charming curls and neat suit, Sue picks him out for what he is, and a strange alliance is formed.

Just who ends up conning whom -- and who runs the risk of murder Miss Lemon shall leave for her readers to discover. The journey to the crime's unraveling is nine-tenths of the fun.