Wednesday, December 05, 2007

A Dark Corner - Celia Dale

First published 1971; jacket shown is the 1985 Constable Crime (UK) hardcover edition. Cover art by Bill Butcher. 155p.

Errol Winston, a black teenager on his own in London, is searching for cheap accommodation when he knocks on Arthur and Nelly Didcot's door. Errol has the wrong address, but Nelly takes pity on the quiet young man with the bad cough and the good manners. Despite concerns about his colour, Arthur agrees to let him stay, and so begins a strange relationship between the young man and the elderly couple.

Nelly is housebound, and her affection for Errol grows with each conversation they share, each meal she cooks for him. Arthur is long retired, but he still leaves the house often, always at night. He also keeps a suite of rooms in the house carefully locked and off limits to Errol and his wife.

As Arthur grows more comfortable with Errol, he begins to let him into his life. First he allows Errol into his locked rooms, where he shows him The Project: a mammoth, totally inane research project about influential people in history with names beginning with 'A'.

Soon Errol accompanies Arthur on his long nightly walks, during which Arthur shows him the strip clubs and divulges the best places to watch courting couples without their knowledge. Errol is uncomfortable... but that's nothing compared to what he feels when Arthur calls him into the sitting room one night. A drugged prostitute lies on the sofa, and Errol watches, appalled, as Arthur undresses the woman and then tells Errol he can do whatever he wants.

Errol, battling with ill health and homesickness, distances himself from Arthur as much as he can, keeping to his attic room or seeking Nelly's company - a woman he now calls 'Ma'. But his attempts are in vain; Arthur has a way with words, and is not easily deterred. He soon seeks Errol's assistance in a shocking crime, drawing the teenager deeper and deeper into his world. If Errol is going to escape, he will need Ma's help.

Celia Dale (1912 - ?) had her first novel published in 1943.

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