(Reviewed by JD Jung)
“Had Sammy, on the towering ledge, been tempted by death, the last best friend? The endless embrace, offering oblivion and release from the remorse that Sammy felt for his parents and sisters left behind to be butchered at Auschwitz.”
Sammy Weiss was an Austrian Jew and socialist who was imprisoned in Dachau before WWII. He escaped to England and became a jeweler. London is where he met Ned Balfour, a dealer in manuscripts and autographed letters. They were to become best friends, though Sammy didn’t understand him.
“Ned. Part adult, part adolescent—who finds success ”boring”, who has a charming wife and delightful children yet wants to throw all this away.”
Yes, Ned was a womanizer— single or married—it didn’t matter.
Now it’s early 1966 and Ned is middle-aged, at forty-two years old. He was vacationing in Corsica in the company of a very young woman,when he received an urgent telegram from Sammy. He wanted advice on a “terrible decision” that he made and asked that Ned call him on a specific date and time. Before he could do so, a telegram arrived from Ned’s ex-wife stating that Sammy was dead. He fell or jumped from the 10th floor of his building. But what didn’t make sense to Ned was that he knew that Sammy severely suffered from vertigo.
Distraught, Ned returned to London to investigate what actually happened. Not only does he discover criminal activity and secrets dating back to 1945, but through all this he starts to understand more about himself.
Author George Sims was an antiquarian bookseller who wrote more as a hobby. Maybe this attributed to his unorthodox use of excess description and superfluous activity, which does tend to bog down the story. But you find out that some of these characters were essential to the outcome of the story.
Though void of twists and turns, this dark novel kept my interest by slowly revealing clues that built up to a satisfying conclusion. I also found Ned’s continual self-examination while trying to find the cause of his best friend’s death to be particularly fascinating. At barely over 150 pages, the story is surprisingly complete.
Last Best Friend which was originally published in 1967 was recently re-issued by British Library Classic Thrillers.