RogerBW's Blog

The Avenger, E. Phillips Oppenheim 16 April 2021

1907 thud and blunder. Herbert Wrayson finds a young lady rifling the desk in his flat. It turns out that she was after the fellow upstairs. But later that man turns up murdered…

Wrayson, being half in love already, doesn't mention the lady's presence at the inquest. But that puts him potentially in the wrong if anyone else saw her, and it appears that someone did.

There's an awful lot of people not explaining things here, and alas it would make for a rather shorter book if they did. At least two factions want some papers the dead man had, not to mention his brother (Oppenheim is at great and repeated pains to let us know that both of these horrible people are Jewish, and all the good people dislike them on sight), and while the vaguely awake reader may instantly work out roughly what's going on, the details will still take some time to elucidate.

"My client is not actuated in any way by philanthropic motives," Mr. Bentham said coldly. "To tell you the truth, he does not care whether the murderer of Morris Barnes is brought to justice or not. He is only anxious to recover possession of the document of which I have spoken."

There is never any doubt about who's Good and who's Bad, and we don't even meet many of the Bad. There's something of an air of smugness about the business, even while the lady is telling Wrayson that she can never marry him (or anyone), and he's pressing his suit in a frankly overbearing way; and while there are three potential femmes fatales, because they're all on the side of Good there's barely any vamping from them.

The overall plot makes a certain sense, though I'm not entirely convinced by the reactions of those with inside knowledge. More surprising to me is that the action never really gets started; there's lots of drama and melodrama, but none of the physicality which is often an important part of a thriller, whether that's actual violence or just a car chase or an attempt to escape across rough country. (Buchan, who rather admired Oppenheim's writing, would do better – helped by not having to churn out two or three books a year for over half a century.)

I read this on a recommendation, though I can't now remember whose, and I have to say it's not outstanding. But there is quite a bit of pleasure to be had here, not to mention plot fragments worth stealing.

Freely available from Project Gutenberg.

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