Payment Deferred by CS Forester

Fade to grey…

🙂 🙂 🙂

We first meet William Marble as he sits in his dining room one evening, totting up his debts. William is a bank clerk who deals in currency exchange, and his salary is of the respectable rather than the generous kind. Despite his humble house, he and his wife Annie always overspend their budget and for a long time William has been shuffling his debt around, borrowing from one person to pay off another. But now he’s reached the point where he has no-one left to tap and his creditors are looking to be paid. Then his young nephew arrives unexpectedly from Australia, with a wallet stuffed with wads of banknotes. And it just so happens William has a cupboard full of photography chemicals that can easily double as poison…

This is not a detective novel, so that little blurb isn’t nearly as spoilerish as it might seem. The murder happens right at the beginning, and the book is actually about the impact it has on William’s psychology. We watch as guilt and fear eat away at him, destroying his already weak character. It’s very well written and psychologically convincing but, oh my, it’s depressing! William is deeply unlikeable while Annie is portrayed as so stupid that it seems unlikely that William would ever have found her attractive. They have two teenage children. Winnie, William’s favourite, starts out OK, but becomes progressively harder to like as the book goes on, while John, the son, has all the makings of a fine young man till his father’s increasingly erratic behaviour begins to affect him. I had a lot of sympathy for John, a little for poor stupid Annie, and none at all for the other two.

William eventually solves his money problems by carrying out a shady transaction at his bank – what today we’d describe as insider trading. Clearly Forester understood what he was talking he about when he described the details of how this scheme worked, but I fear I didn’t and my eyes began to glaze over. However, the end result is that William suddenly becomes well off, and we see how this change in fortune too affects the members of the family, not for the better.

Challenge details:
Book: 74
Subject Heading: The Psychology of Crime
Publication Year: 1926

The element of suspense comes from wondering what the outcome will be. Will William give himself away? Will Annie begin to suspect him? But it’s very underplayed – for reasons made clear early on, there’s no active investigation going on into the young victim’s disappearance. While the vast majority of the book is very credible, the ending left me annoyed at the abrupt and contrived way Forester tied everything up.

As you can probably tell, this one is not a favourite of mine. I often struggle with books where the criminal is the main character unless there’s plenty of black humour to lift the tone. In this one there is no humour, leaving it a bleak story with a couple of episodes that I found distinctly unpleasant. Had it been set amidst the anxious speed of big city life I would call it noir, but the respectable dullness of the middle-class suburban setting left the tone feeling grey. I also felt it went on too long (though in actual pages it’s quite short) – the endless descriptions of William drinking whisky to drown his guilt, his heart constantly thudding, pounding, racing, poor Annie’s repeated descent into sobbing for one reason or another, all became so repetitive that they lost any impact after a while.

CS Forester

However, this is mostly a matter of personal taste – I do think it does what it sets out to do very well; that is, to show the disintegration of the man and the effect this has on his family. Call me shallow but, although I admired the skill and the writing, I simply didn’t find it entertaining or enjoyable. Nor was it quite tragic enough to be harrowing, somehow. I can’t wholeheartedly recommend it, but the ratings on Goodreads suggest plenty of people have enjoyed it far more than I did, so if the idea of it appeals to you, don’t let my reaction put you off. Noir is not my favourite colour, even when it’s faded…

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link – sorry, can only find used copies on Amazon US.

26 thoughts on “Payment Deferred by CS Forester

    • I did think it was psychologically convincing but it needed something to stop it from just being depressing. Maybe if the wife had been easier to sympathise with or something…

  1. I like that description, FictionFan – ‘grey’ rather than noir. I think it’s quite apt. It can be really interesting to explore psychology, but I think I’d find these characters hard to care about, if that makes sense. And if there’s not a character to care about, or at least be interested in, it’s hard to get deeply invested in a story. I can see how this didn’t quite draw you in.

    • Yes, I felt if the wife had been easier to sympathise with or something, I might have enjoyed it more, but there really wasn’t one of them I cared about much. And the ending felt very contrived, which annoyed me particularly because it had felt like a long journey to get there…

  2. Hmm, I’m in two minds about this one. On the whole, I do tend to enjoy reading about the psychological effects of crime on the perpetrator, and I don’t even think the overly depressing nature of this story would bother me especially. It’s the innifective central character and his whiny wife that are putting me off, as I think I would quite quickly run out of patience with them.

    • Yes, that was pretty much how I felt – I can find the psychological effects interesting too, but I still have to have a character that I can either care about or really hate. Since the main character had to be so unlikeable in this, I’d have preferred it if the wife had been easier to sympathise with or something. And telling me every two minutes that someone’s heart is pounding really doesn’t create the atmosphere of tension I felt the author was aiming for…

  3. This reminds me of one of Ruth Rendell’s earlier standalone books, I can’t think of which one, but it focuses on a man who commits a crime and then has to deal with the consequences, very psychological. It can be hard to write about someone like that without completely alienating the reader.

    • I haven’t read much Ruth Rendell – I keep meaning to but you know how that goes! Yes, I think if you’re going to make the main character so unlikeable you have to give the reader someone or something else to care about, and I couldn’t care about any of these ones…

  4. Not sure what to think about this one. I kind of like depressing, but it has to be of the deep, existential variety (did I mention, I love Chekhov). This one mostly sounds dull…

    • I think dull is a good description of it! Yes, I don’t mind dark psychological stuff either, but I do like a bit of light mixed in – either some dark humour or a second character that I can care about if the first one is so unlikeable, or something…

  5. I read this a very few months ago. My reaction was very similar to yours. Though the color I had in mind was drab ….

    • I wouldn’t argue with drab! I did get very tired of being told about his heart racing and pounding and thumping – I fear my own pulse rate never altered throughout… 😉

  6. This sounding promising in the beginning, the impact of committing a murder on your psyche would be fascinating, but you would need to care in some way for the character to make it work I think.

    • Yes, I can cope with an unlikeable main character but I still need to be able to care about someone. If the wife had been less unappealing in this one I would have probably enjoyed it more…

  7. I found it really difficult when the book is written from the perspective of the criminal, because i’m already biased against the narrator, so I’m constantly waiting for my mind to be changed…which doesn’t always happen. I just want to root for the good guy I suppose.

    • Yes, I can cope with an unlikeable main character if there’s someone else I can care about instead, or if there’s some humour in the portrayal. But neither of those happened in this one, sadly…

  8. This actually reminds me a bit of the Steinbeck I read this spring – The Winter of our Discontent – where the primary story is really about what wealth and crime do to a man’s soul. It sounds like Steinbeck made me feel more sympathetic for the characters than Forester did for you. I always end up feeling for the wives in these situations. Society (at that time) tells them it’s okay for the man to take care of the finances and for them to be in complete ignorance but then they become victims too.

    • As you know, I struggle with Steinbeck’s depressing view of the world but at least his prose is so wonderful I usually feel his books were worth reading anyway. The writing here is fine, but not special enough to make up for the bleakness and repetitiveness. I haven’t come across The Winter of Our Discontent… maybe after I make it through East of Eden – if I do!! 😉

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