The Last Best Friend from British author George Sims is an entry in the British Library Classic Thriller series. Reading this novel came on the heels of reading another from the same author, The End of the Web.
The Last Best Friend concerns Ned Balfour, a married dealer in rare manuscripts and letters, who, when the novel begins, is cavorting with a girl half his age in Corsica. He receives a telegram from his friend, concentration camp survivor Sam Weiss asking for his advice for a “terrible decision.” Slightly puzzled, Ned continues with his holiday until he gets a cable from his wife telling him that Sam committed suicide by jumping off the 10th floor of a building.
Ned immediately returns and he’s puzzled that his friend, who suffered from vertigo and was terrified of heights, chose this way to die. He’s drawn into the puzzle of Sam’s death and finds that all is not as it appears….
As with The End of the Web, the great pleasure here is in the characterizations. Barbara Balfour’s friend, neglected wife, Ruth is chronically bored and isn’t above sleeping with the husband of her best friend. There’s also a thread which runs though the novel about the purpose of life especially after survival. Flashbacks show that Sam Weiss is horrified by Ned’s chronic infidelity and admonishes him to curb his selfish ways. While Sam, who survived a concentration camp has definite ideas about a meaningful life, Ned’s ideas propel him in the opposite direction as he seeks pleasure wherever he can find it. To Sam, Ned is wasting his life.
Sammy had said with a sigh, “Yes. life is so short,” and then launched into a lecture on Balfour’s behaviour, telling him bluntly that he should not have left Barbara: “The children matter most. You don’t like your life with her, well you must lump it. Put up with it. Forget what you want for a bit and think about Toby and Prudence.”
This is a short novel which runs to just over 150 pages. On the down side, the story drags for about the first quarter as we get details of Ned’s almost-James-Bond-life. It’s interesting to compare The End of the Web with The Last Best Friend. The former concerns a chronically unfaithful antique dealer who dies in suspicious circumstances, and The Last Best Friend involves another mysterious death. The action in The End of the Web is driven by a single man who wants to settle down while in The Last Best Friend, a married man who’s unmoored from his domestic life is the unofficial investigator. So while these two mysteries involve mysterious deaths, they are both tied far more strongly by scenes of ruptured marriages and husbands who abandon their wives and families for younger pastures.
This short, very readable novel contains some nasty comments about homosexuals, and that dates the novel.