JOHN BINGHAM – Murder Plan Six. Dodd Mead, US, hardcover, 1959. Dell R112, US, paperback, 1962. First published in the UK by Victor Gollancz, hardcover, 1958.
Anyone out there ever heard of this one? I picked up the Dell paperback in a Myrtle Beach used book store, mostly out of boredom. The cover touts it as “in the chilling tradition of Psycho,” but in 1962 they were marketing everything that way, including Miss Marple, so I wasn’t expecting much. This, however, is The Goods: a deftly plotted, skillfully told, constantly surprising bit of work reminiscent of The Red Right Hand, though much better- written.
The story opens with Tom Dempster, a free-lance writer, asked by his sometime editor to come see him – Oh, and while he’s on his way, could he stop by so-and-so’s cottage and see if she’s heard anything from a chap called Michael Barlow? Don’t tell her why, don’t get her upset just ask in a nice way, will you? there’s a good chap.
It quickly develops that Michael Barlow is the assumed identity of a very disturbed fellow who has gotten involved in a complex plan to murder his lover’s husband — a plan he is smugly revealing piece-meal to the editor through a series of tapes — and who might just takeanother innocent victim along with if the plot, which he half jokingly calls “Murder Plan Six,” goes awry.
Author Bingham manages in this slender volume the neat trick of revealing his characters in easy stages as the plot unfolds, so we get a feeling of people shaping and being shaped by events and other characters. He also achieves quite a bit of tense momentum as the story careens to an intelligent and surprising conclusion. The sort of precise, skillful writing we don’t get much of anymore, and I was glad to find it.