I am trying to put more book reviews here, so this is an attempt to get beyond one per week 😉
The Last Best Friend by George Sims
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press/British Library
Release date: Original 1967, rerelease 2017
“The small man standing on the narrow ledge stared fixedly forward with eyes made wide and blank by terror.”
At 2pm on a Monday in 1966, Ned Balfour wakes in Corsica beside a beautiful woman.
In the same instant, back in London, fellow art dealer and Dachau survivor Sam Weiss falls ten stories to his death.
Ned refuses to believe that Sam’s death was intentional, and his investigation thrusts him into the deceit and fraudulence of the art world, where he unmasks more than one respectable face.
First published in 1967, this thrilling tale of vertigo, suspicion and infidelity is a long-forgotten classic with an intriguing plot twist.
The introduction by Martin Edwards illuminates further who George Sims was (d. 1999) and perhaps why he isn’t as well known as his contemporaries of the time (the “Swinging Sixties”) like John le Carre and Len Deighton.
Sims’ style is descriptive, literary, revealing a deep knowledge of London. Ned Balfour can’t reconcile that his friend Sam, a concentration camp survivor, has committed suicide. Both Balfour and Sam are antiquarian booksellers (as Sims was until his death), and Ned is driven to find the answer to his friend’s state of mind. The antique books world is wonderfully depicted as this is Sim’s home turf.
I loved Ned Balfour for his self-analysis, his somewhat jaded view of the world. His descriptions and relationships with women are archaic, but not as problematic as the homophobia that Simms’s prose touches on. It’s the 1960s, however, and I’ve read worse from modern authors. The writing and the plot were too good, and I don’t want to give you the wrong idea.
For an antiquarian bookseller, he’s pretty tough, but both he and Sam are the WWII generation. Ned easily talks women into bed, and he finds himself, as he approaches middle age, kind of creepy. The plot twists and turns as Ned gradually figures out Sam was murdered and drives himself hard to find out who and why. Charming and engaging, I’ll be reading more of George Sims.