Saturday, June 02, 2007

A last word (for now) about Colin Watson

Though I could not name a novel or a movie off hand in which such a figure appears, I seem to recall the abortionist as a powerful symbol in crime fiction of the mid-twentieth century. This was the figure whose medical practice dare not speak its name, whose specialty was only hinted at.

Colin Watson has good fun with such a figure in Just What the Doctor Ordered, also known as The Flaxborough Crab, published in 1969 — good, coy fun, as perhaps was necessary for the time:

"Have you ever heard of a drug called `Juniform'?"

"I have."

"Is it well known?"

"Not in my field, no. But then it's hardly likely to become part of the armoury of the obstetrician."

"Oh, Bernard! You are sweet. Obstetrician ... So you are!"

"Now look, Lucy — do you want me to help or don't you?"

At once Miss Teatime quelled her trill of amusement.

and, lest there be any doubt:

"I'll see what I can do."

"Which I know will be a great deal, my dear. You are a man of resource. My confidence will not miscarry ... "

"Lucy! For God's sake! Not over the phone ... "

"Sorry," she said sweetly.

But the line was already dead.

Incidentally, abortion figures not at all in the plot. Watson apparently just saw a chance to have a good time, and perhaps to press up against some boundaries that were about to come down.

The novel does concern another area of medicine more directly, though, or, more precisely, an area of medicine and commerce. A pharmaceutical salesman figures in the story, and the pressure that such salesmen put on doctors to buy their products is a prominent theme. Such a theme is fresh today, never mind in a novel of the 1960s. And that makes the book another instance of Watson's beguiling combination of Golden Age style with contemporary subject.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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