The Blotting Book by EF Benson

An excellent vintage…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Morris Assheton is due to come into his inheritance when he’s twenty-five. However, a clause in his father’s will allows him to take control of his money earlier, should he marry a woman of whom his mother approves. Morris has met and fallen in love with just such a woman, so his trustee, Edward Taynton, suggests he might want to look over the accounts of the trust. Young Morris has other more important things to think of, though – his future wife, and his new car which he loves with at least as much fervour. This is lucky for Edward, since he and his partner Godfrey Mills have been gambling unsuccessfully with the trust funds. So all seems well, but things are about to go wrong and when they do, it will all lead to murder…

More of a long novella than a novel, this isn’t really a mystery, or at least the possibilities are so limited that most readers will be able to work out whodunit with a fair degree of certainty pretty early on. Instead, it’s an entertaining and quite insightful character study of the three main characters, Morris and the two trustees, and mostly of Edward Taynton.

Edward isn’t a bad man – in fact, his gambles were meant as much to benefit Morris as himself and he still hopes to make good the losses before the trust is wound up. He’s worked hard to give himself a comfortable life, and hopes to retire soon to enjoy life before he’s too old. But we see how he’s affected by pressure as his secret looks in danger. He makes some odd decisions, but happily manages to justify his behaviour himself. A kindly, friendly man whom everyone likes and respects – with a streak of narcissism hidden beneath the surface.

Morris too is a pleasant character, leading a contented, pampered and happy life and with every reason to expect that to continue. However, when things go wrong, suddenly he becomes filled with a rage that surprises everyone, including himself, by its intensity. Godfrey, Edward’s partner, is somewhat less well drawn, and to a degree is a bit of a plot device. He too suddenly behaves in a way that surprises his partner, but I didn’t feel I knew him nearly as well as the other characters so didn’t feel the same surprise.

Challenge details:
Book: 6
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1908

The murder happens quite late on and Benson builds a great atmosphere of approaching dread, with some fine dramatic writing…

Overclouded too was the sky, and as he stepped out into the street from his garden-room the hot air struck him like a buffet; and in his troubled and apprehensive mood it felt as if some hot hand warned him by a blow not to venture out of his house. But the house, somehow, in the last hour had become terrible to him, any movement or action, even on a day like this, when only madmen and the English go abroad, was better than the nervous waiting in his darkened room. Dreadful forces, forces of ruin and murder and disgrace, were abroad in the world of men; the menace of the low black clouds and stifling heat was more bearable. He wanted to get away from his house, which was permeated and soaked in association with the other two actors, who in company with himself, had surely some tragedy for which the curtain was already rung up.

EF Benson

After a police investigation in which the police show themselves to be sharper than the murderer anticipated, the whole thing winds up in a courtroom drama where there’s an excellent revelation around a physical clue that turns the prosecution’s whole case on its head at the last minute. It is fair play in that the reader was made aware of the clue at the appropriate place, but this reader, while I had spotted that it was A Clue, couldn’t work it out, which always adds to the fun!

I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It can easily be read in an evening and my interest never flagged despite having very little doubt as to whodunit or how it would end. It’s the character of Edward that makes it entertaining – he may be a cheat and a fraudster, but I found him good company anyway. Highly recommended.

I downloaded this one from the excellent www.fadedpage.com

22 thoughts on “The Blotting Book by EF Benson

  1. I do like a good character study, FictionFan. And this one sounds as though it’s done quite well, with the plot moving along enough to keep the reader interested. I like the premise, too. You’ve been reading several really good ‘uns lately – happy for you!

    • There’s definitely something about the style of writing of these earlier authors that works for me, and I’m intrigued by how different the books are – I always used to just accept that the Golden Age authors were a bit formulaic, but I’m revising that opinion fast!

  2. Reminds me of a court case I had to hear a couple of years ago. ‘Twould be interesting to read a novella that delves into the characters the way you describe.

    • Oh yes, I remember when you were on jury duty! That sounds as if it must have been an interesting case! I did enjoy this one, and it was just the right length for an evening’s reading. 🙂

  3. I’ve made a note of this, but as I’ve still got his Mapp and Lucia novels to read it may be some time before I get to this—but your review has intrigued me!

    The mention of the ‘garden room’ makes me wonder if Benson had Rye in East Sussex in mind as a setting for this novel too, as he had just such a writing room at Lamb House there: https://wp.me/s2oNj1-rye2

    • Ah, I had forgotten he was the Mapp and Lucia man! I read some of them way back in my teens and enjoyed them, but I’ve never got around to revisiting them. I think of Benson as a ghost story writer because that’s where I’ve encountered him most recently – him and his brothers.

      Interesting – thanks for the link! Could well be – this one is ostensibly set in Brighton, but that wouldn’t have stopped him temporarily moving Lamb House there, if he chose…

      • I’m someone else who sees the name Benson and thinks of Mapp and Lucia. Thanks for recommending something else by him though, loving the M&L books means I’ve very keen to see what his other works are like 🙂

        • I really must revisit Mapp and Lucia sometime – I only have a vague memory of having enjoyed them. This was the first mystery of his I’ve read, but I’ve enjoyed some of his horror stories in the past – he seems to have been very versatile!

  4. Sounds intriguing, FF, and I particularly appreciate that one can read it in an evening (I’m juggling too many irons in the fire these days!)

    • Thank you! 🙂 Yes, the characterisation in this was much more important than the mystery element, and that meant it was enjoyable even though it was pretty obvious whodunit…

  5. I’ve never read a mystery by Benson, Must give it a try at some point-this sounds a little like another mystery I read a couple of months ago Murder in Piccadilly, but I’d love to see how EFB handles a mystery.

  6. A well-told story with good characters can more than make up for a weak (or obvious) mystery, especially in novella form.

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