Today I’m reviewing something a that’s a little bit older than my normal reads. The Strange Case of Mr Pelham by Anthony Armstrong was first published in 1957, but is being re-released by B7 Media this week. My thanks go to the publisher and Joanne Clayton for inviting me to read and review the book and providing an advance (ish) copy of the revised title. Here’s what it’s all about:
About the Book
First published in 1957 The Strange Case of Mr Pelham is Anthony Armstrong’s masterclass in suspense, a slow-burning examination of one man’s descent into paranoia.
Filmed several times for television in both the UK for the BBC, and in the US as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Armstrong’s Pelham eventually hit the big screen in 1970 as the movie The Man Who Haunted Himself, starring Roger Moore.
Reissued here for the first time in more than half a century, this classic period piece is set to bring one of the great 20th century thriller writers to a new generation of admirers.
Identity theft, it would seem, is not an entirely new crime. Whilst in Anthony Armstrong’s day the author who have had no concept of the new and inventive ways that hackers and the like have of taking over a person’s life and finances by way of hijacking someone’s digital footprint, the premise of his novel, The Strange Case of Mr Pelham follows a scarily familiar formula as the titular hero faces a baffling set of circumstances where is appears as though another is slowly taking over his entire life.
Or are they?
That is the question which challenges the reader throughout this book. Does Pelham truly have a doppelganger, a person so alike him that his faithful manservant, even his devoted secretary, cannot tell them apart, is this merely a trick of his own mind? The more he tries to find the truth, the further away he seems to be and his adversary seems always just one step ahead. It really is a perplexing case, for both our protagonist and us as readers.
We journey through this story from Pelham’s point of view, meaning that we too are always slightly adrift from the action, discovering the subterfuge after it happens, and puzzled as to why the other, assuming there is one, might be trying to take over Pelham’s life. The answer may well be an obvious one, financial, and yet the potential third party seems to go to great lengths to confuse and confound our hero. And it is this. that keeps the mystery bubbling along perfectly as I was never quite sure how much of this peculiar tale was just a figment of a possibly fractured and overworked, and certainly increasingly paranoid, erratic mind.
Pelham is a very particular character, very set in his ways and the events which happen are certainly against type, but it is not unreasonable to suspect that it may be a cry for help, a need to be something different, something more, that is driving this strange behaviour and set of circumstance. He is very much of his time, and I liked him as a character, even if he was a tad cautious and maybe too old fashioned in approach in an ever changing period of history. The circumstances that bookend the original story, show readers a very different side to his character, and add to the sense of deception that permeates the tale.
Be prepared to be surprised. The conclusion to this tale is not what I expected at all, and the slow building tension and mystery really draws you in. You get a real sense of time and place from the story, and this does have to be born in mind when reading as the traditional gender roles of the 1950s are all in play. But I also got a feeling that the author was a canny storyteller, able to create an intoxicating and unexpected tale. If you like historical crime fiction, with a touch of the unexpected and mystery laden tale that you get from a traditional crime novel, then pick this book up and give it a read. I really rather enjoyed it.