Safety in numbers

A few weeks ago I came across a blog-post about the largely forgotten British film I start counting. (Sadly have forgotten where I saw the post, or I would provide a link). I had a vague memory of seeing the film many years ago, and remembered that it was a really good psychological thriller, very much in the style of other British thrillers of the late '60s / early '70s such as Twisted Nerve , Frenzy, and (the equally forgotten) Endless Night. Many of them featured maidens in distress - usually Hayley Mills, though I start counting marked an early appearance of the always watchable Jenny Agutter. You can see the film on YouTube.

But the post also reminded me that many years ago I had read the book, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I found the book in the hall of residence where I stayed when I was at university. It had one of the oddest libraries I've ever come across, accumulated by books given as gifts or forgotten by students. It was there that I discovered a scary translation of Mein Kampf  from the early '30s - surely the edition that made so many British aristocrats fall in love with Hitler. For a bit of balance there was a 1920's copy of the Communist Manifesto; the complete Campion (what bliss to discover Margery Allingham for the first time), and I start counting by the wonderfully named Audrey Erskine Lindop.

Lindop left school at a young age, started work in a repertory theatre, and by the age of 18 was a scriptwriter. This is very obvious in I start counting. She has a wonderful ear for dialogue, and the novel is often very funny not least because of the banter between the slightly dysfunctional family at the novel's heart. The humour is needed as Counting veers between laugh-out loud moments, and an often very dark world. There is something very 1960's about it. Although a very different read, it rather reminded me of Joe Orton - the black humour, the ridiculousness of everyday life, and the horror that sometimes falls across the most innocent of lives.

The best thing though in I start counting is the central character, Wynne Kinch, a 14 year old girl. Wynne is likeable, sassy, loyal, and is struggling with growing up. Brought up by her aunt and grandad, she lives with her older twin cousins, who are happily swinging with the '60s, and her much older step-cousin, George, on whom she has a massive crush. Her best friend is Corinne, who wants to grow up far too quickly. Wynne's life will be changed forever when a serial killer starts to stalk the women of Dalstead; and as Wynne becomes convinced that the murderer is her favourite cousin, George, she will go to any lengths to protect him....

Lindop sets the personal changes in Wynne's own life against the massive changes of the 1960s. The novel opens as Wynne struggles to become used to the family's brand new flat, regretting the move away from 3 Collins Wood, a dilapidated property doomed for demolition from which the family have been forced to move. It's not the only change in her life as she struggles with puberty, and the apparent difference in the way in which George treats her. The changes are not all bad though, as Lindop points out that even the familiar can become dangerous.

Darkly hilarious, this is also a brooding psychological thriller. I loved it.


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