The Asking Price by Henry Cecil
Created: Tue Mar 23 12:22:44 2010 | Last modified: Tue Mar 23 12:22:44 2010
"The Asking Price" represents the best elements of a Henry Cecil crime novel. A taut and immensely readable murder mystery, the entire story revolves around the personality of the protagonist, Ronald Holbrook. I won't go into the entire plot here, but will deal with the elements involved that make this probably one of Cecil's best work.
The root of the issue is did Ronald commit the murder of his fiancee or was it an accident as was originally concluded by the Coroner? Certainly the book offers several clues, but I won't reveal the ending here. As far as the suspense element is concerned, Henry Cecil does not disappoint. There is very little violence in the story itself and what makes the story even more tantalizing is the behaviour of the other characters who suspect or have good reason to suspect Ronald. Certainly the initial incidents in the story prepares the reader for the inevitable suspicion. What Henry Cecil manages to showcase superbly is the thin line between suspicion and evidence and how a (presumably) innocent man can become suspected of murder and indeed reach a stage where he might be put on trial and possibly convicted. The reader's emotion is cleverly manipulated by presenting all the facts, both for and against the hypothesis of innocence and guilt. Like the solicitor in the novel, Mr. Plumb, the reader is left with entirely conflicting feelings on the case depending on the angle from which it is viewed. The blackmailing episode adds depth to the whole plot and raises it above the level of an ordinary thriller. A good sprinkling of humour and irony makes it lighter than a story of this nature ought to be and that's what makes Cecil so readable.
All in all I would really recommend this to a first time reader of Henry Cecil. This doesn't represent his typical work, but his usual characters/situations are presented: the garrulous and long-winded retired judge who loves the sound of his own voice, the over-scrupulous, anxiety-ridden solicitor, the slightly neurotic, nosy neighbourhood characters who have their individual quirks, the genteel "blackmailer" and the unusual plot twist in the end. People expecting a lot of action will be disappointed as Cecil loves to tell a story through long passages of dialogue than through descriptive action. However, the result is satisfying and that is what really matters in the end.
Good light reading for a Sunday afternoon. I would rate it 4/5.