|Cover design by Anne Gibson|
Green was a keen fisherman.
He was also at least a double murderer, a blackmailer, a seducer, and one of the most sadistic and vindictive persons it is possible to imagine.
Consider a man who finds pleasure in killing - fish, animals, people, it doesn't matter which. More than this, he is determined and unwavering, so that if he should be thwarted in any way, his first thought will be to revenge himself through an act of murder. But it will not be the person whom he considers his adversary who will be at risk of death; instead he will select the one person, completely innocent of any contributory act, whose death will cause his adversary the most pain, or perhaps the most trouble.
John Bingham's narrator considers such evil, dismissing any notion that such a man should not be held accountable for his actions because of an assumption that he cannot be other than mentally ill. And he reflects on what should be done about someone who kills in this way, obliquely rather than rationally.
He suggests that the justice system cannot offer a reliable solution, for juries invariably require motives, and a motive is difficult to demonstrate where a man enjoys the act of murder for its own sake, and has little interest in the person he plans to kills. And as this man will go to any lengths to ensure that appearances suggest his adversary as the killer, the police too are of little help.
The narrator decides the man should die, and he decides that he will kill him; this brief story serves as a justification of his intentions and of his actions.
The story is narrated in an unusual way, with everything that is to happen flagged in advance. But despite this, the story remains tense and engrossing, even if a little far-fetched, for while his principal focus may be on justifying his actions, the narrator's ancillary focus is on contrasting the experiences and reactions of the two men Green is known to have targeted, and on exploring the consequences each man endured as a result. And it is this focus on character, seen through the analytical mind of a journalist, which keeps the story interesting in a way in which the plot alone could never sustain, for there are really far too many convenient coincidences for it to be considered believable. It is a story which explores the motivations of a serial killer, his beliefs about himself, the price his victims must pay, and whether, in such circumstances, murder can be justified.
First published by Victor Gollancz 1961. Published in Penguin Books 1965.
By the same author:
Penguin no. 1420: Five Roundabouts to Heaven
Kaggy's Bookish Ramblings