1930s Classics Crime

Before the Fact – Francis Iles

I first saw Before the Fact mentioned on Shelf Love, but was persuaded to read it when Teresa selected it as a ‘book that deserves a wider audience’ at Reading Matters.

Francis Iles is an important author in the crime fiction world as he progressed the genre from simple “whodunnits” into books where the murderer is known to the reader and the joy is in understanding their motives and finding out if they get caught.

I loved the first paragraph of Before the Fact:

Some women give birth to murderers, some go to bed with them, and some marry them. Lina Aysgarth had lived with her husband for nearly eight years before she realized that she was married to a murderer.

Before the Fact was easy to read, with a light, almost humorous tone. We watch Lina’s relationship with her husband grow and then falter, as she slowly discovers his flaws and finally realises that he is a murderer. The narrative darkened slightly towards the end, but I’m sure that even the most nervous reader could cope with this book.

It is hard to imagine how 1930s readers reacted to discovering the name of the murderer on the first page, but despite the fact that this frequently happens in modern books I was impressed by the way the plot developed. The book was packed with 1930s charm, but the issues of trust in a relationship are still relevant today.

I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the development of the crime novel, or if you are after a lighter, enjoyable read.

I also watched the DVD as part of C.B. James’ Read The Book, See the Movie Challenge

The Hitchcock classic, Suspicion, is based upon Before the Fact. I hadn’t seen any Hitchcock films before and so thought this was the perfect place to start.

I was really disappointed by Suspicion. The book opens with you knowing that the husband is a murderer, but the film starts off really slowly. You have absolutely no idea where it is going – all you see is a happy couple getting together and setting up their own home. Little things slowly start happening to indicate that everything might not be quite right, but it was too little too late for me. I’m not used to watching these older films, so perhaps it is just a sign of my addiction to the faster paced ones created today, but I can’t help feeling that Frances Iles had the right idea by letting us in on the secret from the start.

The film also looks at things from a slightly different angle – you don’t know whether or not he is a murderer until the very end. This is he/isn’t he? question really irritated me, but perhaps that was because I’d just read the book!

My husband started watching the film with me, but gave up after 40 minutes. At that point I told him that Cary Grant was a murderer. He almost decided to continue watching, but in the end decided he couldn’t take any more of their slow relationship building!

I’m afraid I wouldn’t recommend Suspicion – read the book instead!

Have you read any books written by Frances Iles?

Have you seen Suspicion?

21 replies on “Before the Fact – Francis Iles”

I ve not read any of her books ,sound like a nice light crime novel ,have seen film as a huge hitchcock fan but must say not one of his better efforts ,maybe could read rebecca and watch his rebecca which is one of his early classics ,all the best stu

Stu, Thanks for the recommendation. I’ve read Rebecca, but not seen the film. It does appeal to me, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be a huge Hitchcock fan. I’m sure I’ll watch it at some point, but my expectations will be quite low!

I thought this sounded interesting when I read about it on Shelf Love too–nice to have another recommendation! And I don’t mind giving the movie a miss. I know this is sacrilege but I am not the biggest fan of Hitchcock.

Jenny, I had only heard amazing things about Hitchcock, so was surprised by how poor the film was. I know it was made a long time ago, but I still expected more. I think I’ll probably share your Hitchcock feelings, but to be fair I haven’t watched enough to really know yet.

I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed the book, Jackie. I thought it did get rather dark toward the end, but not at all scary. It’s a lot like the kind of psychological crime novels that people read today in that way, I think.

I wonder how I would have reacted to the movie if I had read the book first. I loved the movie (Hitchcock, Cary Grant, and Joan Fontaine is a perfect combination for me), but I agree that the book is much better. Knowing from the beginning what Johnnie is and getting inside Lina’s head makes the book more interesting.

Teresa, I didn’t find it scary at all, but agree that it is very similar to many modern crime fiction novels – perhaps the only difference is that some of the modern ones are scary 🙂

I think this is one of the few films where it it better to watch it before reading the book, but I don’t think I’d ever have loved the film. I think I’d have given up on it if I hadn’t read the book first – it was just too slow for me.

Thanks for the recommendation – I’m pleased that I read it.

I want to read this one too, but haven’t seen an affordable copy in decent condition as it’s been OP for ages. I do have another Iles – Malice Aforethought though which I’m v.keen to read and has been adapted a couple of times for telly – I recall a BBC production from ages ago with Hywel Bennett as the murderer…

Annabel, I was lucky enough to get my copy from the library – perhaps yours will have a copy?

I’d like to read Malice Aforethought at some point. I’m sure it is just as good as this one. I look forward to reading your thoughts on it.

That is such a disappointment! Hitchcock usually does such a service to a story, and makes it even more suspenseful than the original plot. Now I am racking my brain, wondering if this is one of the authors that was featured in the last Bookmarks magazine, where they highlighted mystery thrillers. I’m going to have to go check now.

Sandy, I’m afraid that in this case I thought Hitchcock took all the suspense out of the story and crammed it into the last 10 minutes of the film.

If your article was highlighting classic crime authors then there is a good chance that Iles would have been mentioned. I hope you found it 🙂

How interesting, I haven’t read many mystery and crime books, and haven’t been a huge fan of the ones that I’ve read, but I love the idea of knowing who it is from the start. Sounds different and fun.

LOL! You sound SO like my son on the subject of Alfred Hitchcock. He moaned all the way through Rear Window because it didn’t have enough high-octane action for him. I really love the way that Hitchcock builds things up slowly, although I remember being disappointed by the ending of Suspicion – he’s done better films than that one. Frances Iles is great, though, and it’s a shame there are so few books available by him. If you liked that one, try Malice Aforethought – it’s very darkly funny.

litlove, LOL! I’m sorry, but it does seem as though my generation has a lower tolerance for Hitchcock’s slow starts. I’ll try another of Hitchcock’s films in the future, but I think I’ll have a far higher chance of enjoying Malice Aforethought 🙂

One of the best Hitchcock films (I think) is Rear Window. If you get the chance, it’s fantastic. Grace Kelly is beautiful, and the plot, even though it moves slowly, kind of lulls along at a wonderfully sinister pace.

Lydia, Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll keep an eye out for Rear Window and give it a try at some point. I suspect that I might find it too gentle, but there is only one way to find out 🙂

I really liked Suspicion. You may have liked it more if you hadn’t read the book first, but maybe not since you aren’t an old movie fan. I didn’t realize this was based on a book. Now I’ll have to look for it.

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