The Talleyrand MaximOctober 23, 2009
After reading The Middle Temple Murder, I downloaded another J.S. Fletcher book: The Talleyrand Maxim (is this where Robert Ludlum got his book-naming scheme? There’s another one called The Rayner-Slade Amalgamation. I think I’m saving it for last.)
I started The Tallyrand Maxim, decided it wasn’t remotely like The Middle Temple Murder, realized that stories about blackmail tend to make me really uncomfortable, and abandoned it for a Joe Muller mystery.
Then I picked it up again, and immediately became completely absorbed.
So, it really isn’t much like The Middle Temple Murder, except in a general stylistic sense. It’s actually barely even a mystery.
The Talleyrand Maxim takes place in the town of Barford, two years after the accidental death of manufacturer John Mallathorpe. Mallathorpe is supposed to have died intestate, so his property was split between his brother’s children, Harper and Nesta Mallathorpe, who have now moved into his house at Normandale Grange, along with their mother. The book begins when Linford Pratt, head clerk in a local solicitor’s office, gets hold of Mallathorpe’s will, which does not leave the money to the niece and the nephew, and uses it to blackmail Mrs. Mallathorpe.
You see the beginning of the blackmailing scheme from Pratt’s point of view, and throughout the book you almost always know what’s going on, but it’s still exciting, partly because all the points of view are handled thoughtfully, and partly because things keep happening. I was rarely confused about the things that had already happened, but I was almost always surprised by the new developments.
It’s not a perfect book, by a long shot. Most of the characters are a bit on the cardboard side, and Pratt, the most complex of them, isn’t the most consistent villain ever–he alternately relies on other peoples’ self-interest and fails to realize that accomplices might have their own agendas — but it’s exciting and well constructed. In some ways I didn’t like it as much as The Middle Temple Murder, but I think it might be a better book.