READY REVENGE (1960) by Catherine Arley

Arley_Ready-Revence_ccThe French writer Catherine Arley is best known for Woman of Straw, one of only a few of her thrillers to have made it into English. Ready Revenge was translated by Virginia Graham and when it was published by Random House in the US, it was promoted as a ‘cynical suspense novel of two scheming women.’ Told through multiple narrators, the main protagonist is Daphne de Ferlac, who decides to get rid of her husband – whose business is going under – to get her hands on his life insurance policy.

I submit this review for Bev’s Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge; and Patti Abbott’s Friday’s Forgotten Books meme over at her fab Pattinase blog.

Daphne: I follow the motto on the family crest I have invented: “A cold heart and a cool head”

Unusually, this novel first appeared in translation before finally getting published in France some two years later as Le Talion (as in the ancient law of ‘eye for an eye’). It seems in fact that until the 1970s, Arley was mainly appreciated overseas rather than in her home country. And yet this is a very Gallic piece of suspense fiction, very much from the same stable as Boileau-Narcejac, Hubert Monteilhet and Sebastien Japrisot. At its core is a four-sided triangle, two men and two women, who all take turns narrating their part of the story.

Marthe: “You seem to have a vocation for widowhood.”

Arley-Talion-capbAlain de Ferlac (Jean in the French version) is 35-years old, comes from an old aristocratic family and is the owner of a failing tannery business. He is married to Daphne (Agathe in the French text), who is younger (27) and comes from a less privileged background and is determined to never want financially ever again. Alain makes friends with Marcel Blancard, a slightly naive but essentially kind businessman now entering middle-age (he is 45), who is about to sell property in Morocco for a vast profit to an oil company. Alain hopes to use his connections to extend his credit and perhaps even make him a partner in the tannery (hiding its losses from him). Marcel comes for a weekend at the de Ferlac’s palatial country estate in the company of his older sister Marthe (she is 53), who unbeknown to the others is dying from cancer. When Daphne realises the extent of Alain’s debts and sees that Marcel has fallen in love with her, she plans to kill her husband in what will look like a boating accident (he can’t swim). She thinks she will then inherit his life insurance, and then marry the soon-to-be-rich Marcel, who idealises Daphne and has no idea what a cynical schemer she really is. Only Marthe senses that there is something seriously wrong with her. Will she manage? I’ll say no more because really the plot is the main thing here.

Marthe: I was blinded by my tears, by his blood, by the waves that beat on the cliffs.

This book is definitely a step up from the previous Arley novel I reviewed, Dead Man’s Bay, with a slightly more complex plot and marginally more believable characters, with even the sociopathic Daphne able to exhibit some complexity (if little or no conscience). One sequence in particular really stands out: an extended and grisly episode set in Spain when one of the characters is killed with a spear shot through the neck during another ill-fated boating trip. The body has to be retrieved, pulled away from the rocks and dragged back on to a small sailboat and then, during a thunderstorm, brought back to dry land. It is very well handled and easily the most memorable aspect of the book, which otherwise is rather let down by a very simple prose style and psychology that is facile in the extreme. In many ways, were it not for its various deaths, it comes across as if it were aimed at younger readers (though I suppose this may in part be attributable to the translation). Either way, at just under 200 pages this is an undemanding thriller which, while not very plausible does, in its final section draws up a fairly successful duel between the two remaining parts of the triangle for an ironic finish that is forseeable but is none the less reasonably satisfying.

The I submit this review for Bev’s 2015 Golden Age Vintage Mystery Challenge bingo in the ‘published under more than one title’ category:


***** (2 fedora tips out of 5)

This entry was posted in 2015 Vintage Mystery Challenge, Catherine Arley, France, Friday's Forgotten Book, Spain. Bookmark the permalink.

26 Responses to READY REVENGE (1960) by Catherine Arley

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    As ever, Sergio. a thoughtful and well-written review. It makes me think how much richer and more gripping the story might have been with deeper characters. Never mind, the plot does sound interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  2. realthog says:

    This is an author of whom I know nothing. Many thanks for the fine review and for giving me yet another to consider tracking down.

    Grinned at the two very different cover approaches.

  3. Colin says:

    Oh, this sounds like it might be fun – off to see if I can spot a copy.

    • If you can’t I’ll let you have mine! it would have made for a great little suspense movie in the early 60s, preferably written by Jimmy Sangster and directed in the South of France by either Val Guest or Freddie Francis!

      • Colin says:

        Yes, that thought about filming it in the early Hammer style was running through my mind as I read your piece.
        I just managed to snag a hardback copy off Amazon for less than £3, the next best price was over £20 so I think I did OK there!

        • Blimey – well done! Hope you enjoy it. The second half in particular will appeal I think, not least for the setting, which could easily be Greece …is suggesting ways to re-write a book really a compliment, though?

          • Colin says:

            I don’t mind an imperfect book, especially if it’s short, as along as it’s reasonably entertaining. And this one seems like the kind of thriller/mystery I usually have fun with.

          • I look forward to hearing more of your experience of it! Have you seen the film of her book, WOMAN OF STRAW? It’s been forever for me but am itching to now and its easy to get …

          • Colin says:

            No, I have the US DVD (can’t play Region A Blu-rays) sitting still shrinkwrapped on the shelves. My watching of anything has been severely curtailed lately but I want to get round to it soon too.

          • Not sure what I have actually … hmm, there is a Spanish Bluray but one worried about tis legal staus shall we say …apparently the Italian DVD is poor … was re-released here by Simply a few months ago but apparently not with the right AR …

          • Colin says:

            Hmm, a mixed bag there. I can always lend you my copy if need be.

          • Wouldn’t dream of it! Still got some Selanders to watch!

  4. kaggsysbookishramblings says:

    An author that’s new to me – though it sounds a little predictable, I’ll certainly look out for her work. Thanks for the heads-up!

    • her most successful book was WOMAN OF STRAW (also adapted for the stage and filmed with in the mid 60s with a good cast featuring Sean Connery, Gina Lollobrigida and Ralph Richardson). That would be the best place to start really… 🙂

  5. READY REVENGE by Catherine Arley follows the template of mysteries written around the 1960s. I really like that LE TALION cover!

  6. Matt Paust says:

    New to me, too, and intriguing. I agree it seems a natural for the movies. Enjoyed the review, Sergio.

  7. tracybham says:

    This does sound interesting, but since you gave it only two stars, I am not rushing to find it. If it finds me, then I will try it.

  8. I like the sound of this, with all its faults, and like everyone else, I had never heard of author or book. You spoil us, Sergio!

  9. Sergio, thanks for reviewing another novel by Catherine Arley. I’m not familiar with her work but I’ll be keeping an eye out for her books. The plot does sound predictable though it’d be interesting to know how she handles it.

    • Thanks Prashant for the kind words – she is one of an interesting and fairly select group of French suspense authors who made it into English in the 50s and 6os, but based on the few I’ve read, i can see why maybe only a few make the linguistic leap!

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