Friday, May 13, 2011

FFB: Play to the End - Robert Goddard

In celebration of Robert Goddard's long overdue Edgar Award for the aptly titled Long Time Coming (Best Paperback Original) I have decided to forgo my usual treasure trove of pre-1950s forgotten books and write about one of his fairly recent (published in 2006) and utterly mesmerizing books.  It has all the hallmarks of Goddard: original characters, mind-bogglingly labyrinthine plot, more twists than a hyperactive go-go dancer and a breathtaking finale.

I am hesitant to make any attempt to do even the sketchiest of plot summaries.  If you know Goddard you know that it is practically impossible to due justice to a summary without spoiling some of the surprises.  And he has more surprises in his books than any kid would want on Christmas Day.  But I'll try to give an overview of sorts.

Toby Flood is a sort of washed up actor who's been relegated to stage work in touring companies. As the book opens he's in a newly discovered Joe Orton thriller/farce in Brighton where his ex-wife lives.  She calls him to have him find out who is stalking her. Toby meets up with the peeping Tom - an oddball by the name of Derek Oswin.  Toby tries to reason with Derek and get him to lay off his ex-wife. But Derek has an ulterior motive. His stalking of Toby's wife is part of an intricate plan to meet Toby, take advantage of his pining for his ex-wife, and ultimately use him as an instrument of vengeance.  And I will say no more.

Goddard's books should be studied by anyone who is interested in writing a suspense novel.  His layering and unveiling of the multiple story elements are unmatched. He has an enviable knack of getting the reader to want to know what happens next. The pages can't turn fast enough when you're reading one of his better efforts. Many people complain that he is formulaic. All I can say is that those people have no idea what the word means. He may not be a writer whose books you want to read one right after the other, they're too dense and often Byzantine. But I return to him at least once a month.  For my tastes his books are things of beauty. They dazzle me and I admire him all the more for that.


  1. I've not read anything by Goddard, though his win for BPO made me think to try it.

  2. Formulaic? Well, if that means that you can expect a hero who's often morally compromised in some way, twists and turns that make you shake your head in admiration, and some dandy writing, well, I can live with that critique. Some books are better than others, but they are all worth reading. A new Goddard is cause for joy in my house.