The Last Best Friend by George Sims
|The Last Best Friend by George Sims|
|Reviewer: Phil Lewis|
|Summary: a long-forgotten thriller, first published in 1967. It's outdated, but highly entertaining.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Maybe|
|Pages: 192||Date: September 2017|
|Publisher: British Library Publishing|
The Last Best Friend is the sort of book they don't publish nowadays. This long-forgotten thriller, first published in 1967, has been dug up from the archives by the British Library and given a smart, retrofit makeover. The story however remains the same - an outdated, highly entertaining thriller/mystery crossover set in the heart of a London that has all but disappeared.
It tells the story of Ned Balfour, an ageing manuscripts dealer with a twinkle in his eye and an attitude to women that is, to put it mildly, of its time. While holidaying in Corsica with his latest flame, his eponymous best friend plunges to his death from a London balcony. The rest of the story sees Ned (who I imagined as a cut-price Sean Connery with a more aggressive tan) caught up in a London of art dealers, aristocrats and gangsters, trying to solve the mystery of Sam Weiss' vertiginous death.
Perhaps the first thing to say is that this book is of its time in more ways than one. Without wanting to spark a debate about the merits or otherwise of political correctness, this is a book that falls very much on the other side of the line. It's treatment of women and, in particular, some throwaway comments about homosexuality, are painfully dated. If you, like I did, come to accept these elements as a product of a different time, rather than anything really nasty, then you can enjoy what is a fun and entertaining little thriller.
The other, more positive element of Sims' writing is a recreation of a London that has all but disappeared. Balfour's delightfully outdated business of manuscripts and antiquarian letter dealing lends him a network of art dealers and aristocrats who operate out of dusty smoke filled rooms in grand Georgian terraces. It's the perfect setting for a thriller. Sims himself worked as an antiquarian bookseller, and he clearly has strong views on the right sort of clients. This is a world where the cut of your jacket and the metal of your cufflinks pass as character development. There's so much talk of things being valuable little pieces that at times it felt like a Sunday evening spent watching Antiques Roadshow in a nice pair of slippers.
I read a lot of this on a very long flight, and I would recommend doing so. It's a great holiday read – escapism of the kind that doesn't require much effort. You can slip into the musty, bronzed world of Ned Balfour and his eclectic mix of contacts, and leave the dull roar of the plane far behind. I'm not sure The Last Best Friend was every destined to really stand the test of time, but it certainly does a good job of travelling back through it.
For more from the British Library's recent publishing we can recommend Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics) by Martin Edwards (editor)
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Best Friend by George Sims at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Last Best Friend by George Sims at Amazon.com.
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