The Better To Eat You (1954) by Charlotte Armstrong

History student Sarah Shepherd has made the decision to never again let anyone get close to her, bar her immediate family, as whenever she has done so in the past, extremely bad things have happened to them – she considers herself cursed, a Jonah if you will, and with good reason.

Professor David Wakeley has been impressed by Sarah’s work, and wants her to be his assistant, but when she insists that it cannot happen, he only becomes more intrigued. Surely these tales of doom and disaster are in her head. But when his parked car rolls down a hill and kills someone, he realises that the danger is real and very close to home.

I mentioned in my last post that I’ve been rather ill over the past few days – stinking cold, not sleeping – and I wonder… did this book cause it?

This is the title my book club chose for December, based in part on a number of our members enjoying Armstrong’s The Unsuspected. I’ve not read that one, but I was looking forward to trying the author. But now, I’m less inclined to read The Unsuspected, because this book is, well, bad.

It’s just lacking in everything – suspense, surprise, mystery, any real sense of danger. The only thing that kept the pages turning was the hope that, for once, Sarah would not believe the most recent thing anybody told her – and I don’t think that ever happened.

Everything is laid out for the reader well in advance – the villains, the motive, the plans – and with no characters to care about and no real sense of peril… I can see what the author may have been intending – given the title, I presume she was going for some sort of fairy tale atmosphere. Having said that, this has more parallels to a prince rescuing a princess from an evil family, rather than Red Riding Hood to which I can see no real links at all. But no matter what Armstrong was trying, she fails badly with this one, with the central victim just seeming wandering around in a daze and characters making decisions purely to prolong the plot with no new developments at all.

Just give this one a miss.

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