Sunday, December 03, 2006

Home is the Prisoner - Jean Potts

First published 1960; cover shown is the 1965 Penguin Books (UK) paperback edition. Cover art by George Mayhew.

I almost missed out on this highly enjoyable crime novel. I was browsing through an out-of-the-way secondhand bookstore and didn't want to leave without making a purchase. I'd never heard of Jean Potts and I wasn't particularly grabbed by the blurb on the back, but I have a soft spot for those older green & white penguin crime paperbacks, so it came home with me.

The story opens with Jim Singley returning to the town of Athena after spending six years in prison for manslaughter. Few people are happy to see him, especially his ex-wife (who has always believed he was guilty of worse), his teenage son (who has been taught to hate his father) and the old-maidish Elroy Hild (who is now married to Audrey, Singley's former lover).

We are told early on that Singley did accidentally kill his lover's husband, so this is not a story of an innocent man trying to clear his name. Instead, Jean Potts focuses on the action behind the scenes. Why did Audrey agree to marry Elroy during Singley's trial? What is Judge McVey, Singley's only friend, hiding? Why is Elroy so hysterical about keeping Singley away from Audrey? And how can there possibly be a happy ending?

While it starts a little slow, this is a very well written crime story, with spot-on characterization (especially Singley's spiteful, sour ex-wife) and a thrilling final few chapters.

Jean Potts (1910 - 1999) was an American writer, born in Nebraska. She lived mainly in New York and was still writing well into her 80s. Her novel Go, Lovely Rose (1954) won the Edgar Award for best first novel from the Mystery Writers of America.

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