Category Archives: Sims George

The Last Best Friend: George Sims (1967)

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….

The Last Best Friend

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.

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The End of the Web: George Sims (1976)

The End of the Web from author George Sims (1923-1999) is an entry in the British Library Classic Thrillers series. This short novel has the feel of a  WWII spy thriller, but the plot takes us into the world of 1970s London antique dealers.

When married, philandering antique dealer Leo Selver is found dead of a heart attack next to the bludgeoned body of his latest conquest, Judy Latimer, the police assume it’s a crime of passion. But Leo’s wife, Beatrice isn’t convinced. She knows that Leo was chronically unfaithful, but refuses to believe that he was capable of murder. Instead she clings to the idea that an alternate scenario is possible: a jealous lover killed Judy.

The police dismiss Beatrice’s concerns in what seems to be an ugly, open-and-shut case, so she contacts former policeman, ex-race car driver Ed Buchanan, recently returned from Greece and currently unemployed.

The End of the Web

When Ed first hears the story of Leo’s death from Beatrice, he too isn’t convinced that there’s anything inconclusive about the case, but then again, there are a few niggling issues. Leo had recently become more involved with fellow antique dealer, Sydney Chard who seems to have vanished, and a third, overly anxious, dealer has phoned Beatrice a few times from Amsterdam.

Ed, with nothing more pressing to do, and with his eye on Leo’s young female assistant, takes the case.

While all of this is going on, we readers know that yes, Leo’s death was not as it seemed, and we also know Sydney’s fate. Of course, Ed is in the dark, but he soon realises that Leo was involved in something he could not control.

There’s very little down time in this book, and the plot never really goes into anything too fantastical. Underneath the plot, there’s the sense that life is ephemeral. Most of our characters have been struck with tragedy in some way: the Selvers lost their son, and Ed’s parents were killed in a senseless accident. When the novel begins, we have the very interesting Leo Selver chasing a young woman and wondering why he bothers when he’d so much prefer to be home with his wife.  The End of the Web is an entertaining tightly-written read that touches on bigger issues, without being preachy, such as the meaning we put to our lives and using our time wisely.  This depth, along with the idea that people are complex multi-layered beings, adds a nice touch to a book from the thriller genre.

Dichotomy: division or distribution into two parts; hence, a cutting into two; a division. He did contain two selves, dissimilar but complementary characters. There was the more obvious extrovert, call him Leo for short, a typical Sun subject, born in August, romantic, impulsive, greedy, vain, a man who made money quickly and lost it, philandered, played the fool, got into trouble. Then there was the subtler character, sober old Selver who had second thoughts, watched everything and everybody including Leo, made sly comments and criticized, saw the absurdity of Leo’s behaviour, tried to take evasive action whenever possible. 

(The novel includes Ed’s homo phobia which also apparently appears in another George Sims book: The Last Best Friend)

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