Sunday 26 April 2020

Man in Motion by Charles Williams

Here is another outstanding suspense novel from Charles Williams, with the emphasis on the word suspense

At times the tension in this book became so unbearable that I had to just set it aside for a couple of minutes.

Man in Motion (US title: Man on the Run) tells the story of Russell Foley, who has been framed for the murder of a cop.

It begins in headlong fashion, with Foley already on the run, jumping off a freight train into the dirt in the middle of a rain-swept night: "the rain was slowly washing mud out of my hair and down across my face."

"I was going round and round in an endless circle in a nightmare. I was a mechanical rabbit running for ever in front of a pack of hounds along a dark race-track..." 

Foley knows no one will believe his story and that if the police catch him he's done for.  

And Williams really puts us through the wringer in that short first chapter.

Then, from there, the tension only ratchets up...

At one point Foley has a close encounter with a cop. He escapes but is left, "limp and useless as jelly." So was I after reading it.

The story moves like a rocket, propelled by the life or death dilemma of the protagonist. But, fortunately for Foley. he is lucky enough to run across a classic Charles Williams heroine.

Williams writes women well, but even by his high standards Suzy Patton is an extraordinary character. 

She finds Foley hiding in her holiday cottage, which he has broken into, and wearing a blanket because his clothes are soaked.

She laughs and says he looks like a "displaced gladiator" or a "raffish Medieval monk who got caught in the wrong bedroom."

For her part, Suzy looks "as big and vital as a Viking's dream." Then she hears about how Foley was framed. "The hardboiled grey eyes were alight with interest."

She decides to help him and, voila, suddenly Suzy and Foley are a detective team!

Foley has a clue in the shape of a Latin femme fatale clue whom he believes really killed the cop. 

So Suzy gets herself ready to go out and track the murderess down, announcing, "The brunette being stalked by her only natural enemy."  (Suzy is a blonde.)

Man in Motion is enthralling, witty and thrilling. Extremely thrilling...

Just to complicate matters, as the story warms up, the real killers get on Foley's trail and try to silence him permanently, just in case he might be able to implicate them.

It's a classic double chase, even more intense than in The Sailcloth Shroud, exerting an inexorable hold on the reader from the first page.

And the writing is simply wonderful, with a strong line in sardonic humour.

The apartment where Foley had a fight with the late cop looks like the two of them "had been playing polo on bulldozers."
And when Foley asks if a drowned man was murdered, the response is, "Yeah,  unless he always went swimming with a Ford transmission tied to his leg." 

I feel I've hit the jackpot with my discovery of Charles Williams. You can expect to hear more from me about this forgotten but great American writer — soon.

(Image credits: The front and back of the Pan edition with cover art by 'Peff' — Sam Peffer — are scanned from my own prized copy. The Gold Medal cover — Man on the Run — is from Ipernity. The Mysterious Press ebook and the French Gallimard edition with the photo of the woman and the bathtub are from Good Reads. The Gallimard edition with the black and green cover is from Dialogues la Librairie. The Gallimard Serie Noir is from Amazon UK. The British Cassell hardcover with the rather crude cover painting is from Heritage Auctions.)

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