The 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.”
Alain 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: