Friday 16 October 2020

A Dark-Adapted Eye. What's the truth?

A Dark-Adapted Eye I used to love the telly series Columbo. Peter Falk as the shuffling detective in his rumpled mac knew who'd committed the crime right from the beginning. He just had to work out how to catch 'em. In Barbara Vine's book A Dark-Adapted Eye we know there's been a murder, we know the murderer was Vera Hillyard, and we know she was hung for her crime.

Over thirty-five years Vera's family has tried to forget about the incident, and in their own ways have distanced themselves from it. The long dormant memories are reawakened when a true-crime writer contacts Faith Severn, the murderer's niece. As the story's narrator she recounts the family's history and relationships, and how the past has had an enduring effect on the future. There's no fast, exhilarating plot because that's not what this story's about. Once the victim is revealed, there's the question of motive, much of which is tied to society's expectations of the role of women in the 1940s.

Just one more thing, as Columbo used to say. Faith relates the events that led to Vera's hanging as she remembers them, but she also warns us that "Memory is an imperfect function." It's up to us to decide what the truth is.

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