Friends in Low Places by Simon Raven, second in the ‘Alms for Oblivion’ series, starts in April 1959 with an old character and a new. Widow Angela Tuck has taken up with a sleazy con man. Mark Lewson, who steals from Angela and then loses her money at the casino, is a loathsome character and she can’t wait to be rid of him. Rippling throughout the novel is the seemingly impossible plan hatched by Angela’s gambler friend to help her. He charges Lewson with buying or stealing a letter that incriminates the British Government in a scandal concerning Suez.
This is an enjoyable read about a bunch of charlatans and is a window on the behavior of a group of the English upper class in the Sixties, when the reverberations of the Suez Crisis continued to ripple throughout society. At the heart is the manipulation by everyone concerned during the selection process by the local Tory party to choose its parliamentary candidate for Bishop’s Cross. When the mysterious letter about the Suez scandal becomes available, a chase is on to first, possess the letter; and second, to use it as a bargaining chip for the candidature. The Suez errors are never defined, and perhaps by modern standards they would seem small beer, but the manipulations, double-crossing and blackmail seem, unfortunately, very believable today. Behind the smiles are knives. Do not take anyone at face value.
As well as Angela Tuck, familiar characters from the first book reappear, including rival parliamentary candidates Somerset Lloyd-James and Peter Morrison. Journalist Tom Llewellyn also features again, marring the daughter of the grandly named conservative minister Sir Edwin Turbot who may, or may not, be involved in the Suez scandal. Turbot’s friend Lord Canteloupe [the more outrageous the name, the more outrageous the satire] is put in charge of entertaining the working class population. His Westward Ho! caravan park is a political fudge designed for publicity purposes, which unwittingly becomes the hideout for a couple on the run from the law. This is a whirlwind of political shenanigans, sexual shenanigans, two-timing, betrayals and marriages of convenience.
Raven has a wonderful turn of phrase. For example, ‘Sir Edwin turned up his eyes and stuck his spoon into the middle of his peach melba, with the air of a soldier planting a sabre to mark a fallen comrade’s newly filled grave.’
Much easier to read than The Rich Pay Late, first in the series, I think because many of the same characters appear and I felt familiar with them. Well-written, humorous in places but not shocking when compared with modern politics.
Read my review of The Rich Pay Late, book one in the Alms for Oblivion series
If you like this, try:-
‘All Among the Barley’ by Melissa Harrison
‘Union Street’ by Pat Barker
‘Wigs on the Green’ by Nancy Mitford
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
FRIENDS IN LOW PLACES by Simon Raven #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-3Xy via @SandraDanby