The File on Lester by Andrew Garve


published 1974


File on Lester

[statement from a press photographer]

As I was going into the Memorial Hall, Paddington, this afternoon to cover Jim Lester’s adoption meeting, I was approached on the pavement by an attractive young woman. Apparently she had noticed the press badge I was wearing, and wondered if I could help her… I was interested, particularly as the girl (25 plus?) was quite an eyeful.

[Report by a political journalist]

Mr James Lester was formally adopted as the Progressive Party Candidate for Paddington South-East at a well-attended meeting of constituency member and party workers this afternoon…

On the platform, Mrt Lester made his usual impressive showing. He is, as most people now know, a physically attractive man dark handsome and well-built. At 44 he gives an impression of youthful vitality… His accent is of the Cam and Isis (old style) but his dress verges on the trendy.

commentary: I picked up this book on the recommendation of crime expert extraordinaire Martin Edwards, who wrote about it over at his Do You Write Under Your Own Name? blog. I am going to quote from his review, as I don’t think I can better his description:
The eponymous Lester is a fast-rising star in the political firmament. He's just become leader of the Opposition, at a time when the government is unpopular, and facing a general election. Within a short time, Lester could be walking into 10 Downing Street. Then disaster strikes. An attractive young woman lets slip the information that, more than six months earlier, she and Lester had a brief affair. Lester is a widower, and there's nothing terribly scandalous about what happened. But Lester denies that he ever met the young woman, and his apparent deceit creates a furore.

The story is told in a series of documents, including reports from people working on a newspaper sympathetic to Lester. This method of story-telling can work very well, and Garve does a really good job of building the tension. There's an obvious explanation for what has happened to Lester, but it's not the right explanation. I enjoyed finding out the truth.
I liked the document format, too, it was very effective. And the book was short and sharp: no flabby long passages, and it kept up your interest for the whole of its 150-page length. And I liked that Garve was grappling with modern life, as in the modern clothes worn by the protagonists, and the fact that life has become more free and easy in the previous 10 years or so. (Garve, who wrote under several names, was born in 1908 and started publishing before WW2.)

The setup is interesting, too, because we are in little doubt that Lester is innocent: this is a tightrope act for a writer, but when well-done it becomes particularly fascinating. I am forever saying that I don’t really like inverted mysteries (we know who did it, but how, and how will he/she be caught?), but this particular form of inversion I enjoy when it’s well done. We are watching an investigation, we are certain of the outcome, we just don’t know exactly what is going on. Josephine Tey’s Franchise Affair is an excellent example, as is a book I recently blogged on: Charlotte Armstrong’s The Dream Walker (despite my blogpost getting rather hijacked by my interest in the bedjackets and nightwear in it). And there was an interesting parallel with one of Agatha Christie’s short stories from the collection The Labours of Hercules – in The Augean Stables, Poirot helps out a Prime Minister with problems, and whose wife as a result will be, as Wikipedia puts it, pictured as ‘wanton and cavorting at clubs with a South American gigolo’. The future PM in this one is portrayed as going in for nude sunbathing and sex on a boat – though as Martin says above, it is clear that this in itself is not a problem, it is the accusation of lying and covering up that would put him in the wrong.

There have been a couple of other Andrew Garve books on the blog – click here to find them.

The very fashionable persons of 1973 above are dressed by Guy Laroche, photo from Kristine’s photostream.













Comments

  1. I'm intrigued, Moira. Sometimes those books about politics can be fascinating, and it's interesting to see how the inverted structure works here. Trust Martin Edwards to find these lesser-known gems!

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    1. I know, Margot, you can always rely on Martin! I have read a couple by this author now and he could spin out a good tale...

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  2. Oh how quaint...a time when a single lie could topple someone's political ambitions :)

    But you have definitely piqued my curiosity...after a lifetime of being a politics junkie I have just about given up on the real world offerings over the past year or so but I still enjoy fictional politics...especially from yesteryear...going to try to track this one down

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    1. I know what you mean Bernadette - as a long-time political activist I simultaneously tell people they don't know the half of it, and also pick holes in fictional and non-fiction versions. Mrs Grumpy. But I did enjoy this - I think it was set long enough ago not to worry me too much, and showed such interesting attitudes of the time. Hope you can pick up a cheap copy.

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  3. I have not read anything by Garve, and this one sounds very good. I have three that he wrote, two from the fifties and one from 1978. I will have to get to one of them.

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    1. He wrote such a lot, it's surprising he isn't more famous. And I've never not enjoyed one of his books. Try one and see. Do you keep your unread books in proper order so it's easy to find out if you have a book? I'm always impressed that you know what you have tucked away.

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    2. I have all of my books (almost all) cataloged in a cataloging application called Book Collector (they also have a Movie Collector, Comic Collector, etc.). Unfortunately I have a lot of my books in boxes, like Col. Although I have many shelves of unread books in the house too. Cataloging books is not foolproof, user error you know, but mostly I can lay my hands on a book if I need to. Watermelon by Marian Keyes was lost for a while, then reappeared.

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    3. I have bought a second copy of a book I already have, before now, though not so much recently. It would be good to have them catalogued but the thought makes me feel tired...

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    4. You are right, it is a lot of work and time, especially if you buy too many books. I use if for keeping track of books in series, and how many copies of different editions of Rex Stout books I have, and location... so worth it to me in the long run. But I do get behind on cataloging.

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    5. I think I should have started a long time ago! Books I've read are on the shelves in my own personal arrangement, and I can usually find something instantly. And I have records of my reading going back 30 years. But the TBRs are a different matter...

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    1. I hardly want to encourage you to get more books, but he might be more up your street than you think, he's very thrillerish. He also writes as Roger Bax, and maybe other names, and wrote dozens of books in his day. Nothing in the tubs?

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    2. I had never heard of him before your post. I've looked him up - the odd one before and after this one seem quite intriguing, but yeah - would I be buying them to read or to hoard?

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    3. No, best stick with what you have - you're not going to run out any time soon, are you?

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