Bat out of Hell by Francis Durbridge

January 23, 2013 § Leave a comment

The estate agent was decoyed to the isolated house by his wife’s lover, killed, and the body was secreted. But then things started to go wrong . . . the body disappeared and the dead man ‘phoned his wife!  Then the police found the body  –  and the dead man ‘phoned again, proving that the body wasn’t his! As the guilty lovers prepare to escape this nightmare, vengeance catches up with them with the speed of a bat out of Hell. So goes the blurb of Francis Durbridge’s Bat out of Hell (Ian Henry Publications,1981).*

The question: is Bat out of Hell worth reissuing? One could answer this question rather generally by saying that it is as much worth reissuing as most novels are worth publishing today. But as that is not a very satisfactory answer, I shall elucidate further.

When the story opens Geoffrey, the husband, is not long for this world. We would like to know what he did to deserve being murdered. Equally why should Mark, the lover, risk so much for Diana, his employer’s (Geoffrey’s) wife? If perhaps we had learnt more about the characters, we might have sympathised with one of them. We, readers, want to attach ourselves to someone. We want to take a side. If we have no one to attach ourselves to, we cannot really orientate ourselves in the story. Who should we care for? Will this person prove worthy of our affection? These questions don’t arise.

On the first page of the story, appears the following: Now in her early thirties she [Diana] had taken good care to preserve her looks.

At this moment, I did not feel in safe hands. Did women in their early thirties in 1972 need to preserve their looks? I can’t remember when I last read of a well-preserved woman; as far as I recall ‘well-preserved’ was only used for women over forty. I don’t think Francis Durbridge could have been thinking too carefully about what he was writing.

Challenging though the management of characters and their bodies is for the writer ( I find it exasperatingly so), he must avoid the following:

Their glances met briefly, then slid away again. (page 9)

Mark forced himself to look directly into the older man’s eyes, determined not to drop his own as he nearly always did. (page 20)

Mark’s eyes had been fixed thoughtfully on the closed door. Now they swung up to the girl’s face. (page 42)

The plot is pretty good but it should have amounted to something more. Not for one moment did I see through the villain’s machinations in relation to the husband. No doubt, some of you, would have spotted at once what was going on. So if you have apprehended the author’s schemes, is there anything much of further interest?  No, I think not. The writing is not good enough to be enjoyed for itself, the characters are not interesting, and there is no humour to enliven the story. For further information about its origins, and a different opinion about its merits: see Martin Edwards.

* Bat out of Hell was first published by Hodder & Stoughton Ltd (1972). This book has been reissued by Arcturus.

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