Sunday, 11 November 2012

Penguin no. 1111: Payment Deferred
by C.S. Forester

It was all very annoying and exasperating. How his head ached, and how tired he felt! His mind was numb. The grim feeling of blank despair was swamped by complete lassitude of soul. He realized vaguely that his oft-repeated threat of sending the children to bed without any supper would soon be carried into effect despite himself. He would be sacked from the Bank, and he would never get another job. He knew that well enough. He supposed it would end like the cases one read about in the paper, with his children's throats cut and himself and his wife dead of gas-poisoning. But at present he hardly cared. He wanted to relax. When those blessed kids had been packed off to bed he would drag the armchair up to the fire and put his feet up on the coalbox and read the paper and be comfortable for a bit.

No one suspects Mr Marble of being the murderer that he is; no one is even aware that the murder in question has taken place. To all appearances he is nothing other than a slightly shabby and ineffectual middle-aged man who works as a Bank clerk in Threadneedle Street, and lives in a small house in a depressed south London suburb. But when an opportunity to profit through murder unexpectedly came his way, he acted; he managed to successfully carry out the crime and dispose of his victim's body without arousing suspicion or leaving any incriminating traces, aided by the obtuseness of his wife.

But there has been no peace for Mr Marble since that evening. He has been beset by constant worries, but not regarding what he did or the life that he has taken; his concerns seem only ever for himself. He is tormented by the possibility that someone might find out what he has done, and that will mean his death.

It becomes an obsession which constrains his life. He spends almost every subsequent evening sitting alone in view of the neglected flowerbed which conceals the body, while slowly making his way through the bottle of whisky essential to dull his mind and quieten those unwelcome thoughts. There can be no evenings out, no visitors, and no holidays. And he begins to read obsessively, but only books on crime, criminals, and detection, always searching for clues as to how he could be caught, or working out the mistakes by which others gave themselves away. The odds of eluding detection are strongly in his favour, but a chance event, such as a stray dog or nosy neighbour, could be his undoing, so he must endlessly watch that flowerbed for reassurance.

Payment Deferred is the study of a man who has succeeded in getting away with murder, of how the experience alters him, and of the consequences for himself and his family. It is perhaps ironic that had he only applied the character traits essential to carrying out his appalling crime in his everyday life, he would never have found himself in the financial position which induced him to commit the murder. Under pressure and facing ruin, Mr Marble proved unscrupulous and entirely self-concerned, but also decisive, determined and effective. Yet for months previously he had simply refused to think on his problems or take any remedial action to control the family's spending so as to limit their ever-increasing indebtedness. The unexpected visit of a wealthy and independent nephew, just arrived from Australia, gave him his opportunity, and the nephew was murdered in order that Mr Marble could take control of the cash he was carrying.

It can be inferred from the title that Mr Marble eventually pays for what he has wrought, although mentally and physically he begins to pay from the day he commits the crime. The book follows his deterioration, one that was perhaps inevitable, for he was self-obsessed, surly, and uncaring even before his crime, bringing little of value to the world. And it is impossible to feel any sympathy for a man so desperately fearful of the very thing he indifferently imposed on another.


  1. Sounds great. I tried another Forester a while back and didn't get on with it, but I'd love to read this. Thanks.

  2. Noticed in an earlier comment you were looking for names of bookshops in the UK that house Penguins. You've probably been tipped off about Camilla's, in Eastbourne, but there is a new secondhand bookshop in the same town called Tome, which has got tons of them as well, £2 each. Well worth a visit.

  3. I've only read Forester's Hornblower stories so it's good to get an insight into his other works. Thank you.



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