After reading 'A Blunt Instrument' I was in the right mood for another murder so was really pleased to find that 'Antidote to Venom' was another 1938 book, perfect timing. I really like Simon and Kaggsy's book club concept; choosing a year still leaves a lot of scope to find the book that feels right for the moment, there are enough people reading the same books to give a really representative view of them, but enough different books to keep it interesting.
It's been a stressful few weeks at work (there's a stock count coming up which I hate going) so golden age crime is just what I want. Not much violence, a puzzle to enjoy, and always the little details about everyday life that give some insight into the past.
1938 has been an interesting year to visit in this way, not just because if the interesting political situation that was brewing, but also because it's just falling out of living memory. My paternal Grandfather was in still in his 20's in 1938, father of a hopeful young family amongst other pursuits, so on one level I have him in mind when I read books like this. The details would have been familiar to him, and who knows - maybe he picked just this book up to read on a train journey... (Although it would more likely have been something about horses).
Back to 'Antidote to Venom'. It's a bit out of the ordinary in that we see the murder unfold from the murderers point of view, which means amongst other things that I spent quite a lot of time working out who the victim was going to be rather than the culprit. It's also got a distinctly evangelical moral message at the end which is interesting, and certainly unusual in my general reading.
Our sinning protagonist is presented sympathetically as a weak man who's made an unhappy marriage and got himself into financial difficulties. Suddenly faced with ruin he's offered a chance of financial redemption, there are risks, and he knows what he's being asked to do. Its also easy enough to see why he does what he does, not that Crofts ever underplays how serious the sin is, or how weak or wrong his character is in the way he behaves. Still, it's useful to be reminded how easy it is to make a bad decision, and that how once made it can escalate dramatically (if not typically into murder).
What it tells me about 1938 is that it would have been a much safer place if the expectation was that middle class women could have enjoyable careers after marriage, that they were educated for careers at all, and if divorce was socially acceptable.
The divorce question is one that I find particularly interesting. I must admit I hadn't altogether considered how much it might cost an unhappy, and unfaithful, husband - but this one takes it for granted it would mean the loss of his job, which comes with a home, and as he's in debt he's rather stuck. For his wife it would be an unpleasant situation to find herself in, but she can at least comfort herself with the possibility of making a rather better (financially) second marriage.
Altogether I really enjoyed this book, and I'm very pleased that the 1938 club gave me the final push to read it. Thank you, Simon and Karen for organising it. I look forward to the next one!