Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Narrowing Circle by Julian Symons (Penguin Classic Crime 1954)

Gross Enterprises occupied a square, ugly office block near Holborn. On the ground floor was Reception, Dispatch and the Research Section. First floor was Crime, second Romance, third Western and fourth Science Fiction. Administration was on the fifth and top floor, and so was Sir Henry Gross's office and flat. I passed old Sir Henry as I went in, teetering uncertainly across the Reception hall to his private lift. Who's Who didn't give his age but he must have been in the seventies, although his lined face and generally papery appearance made him look older. Nobody I knew had much contact with him, not even the Section Editors. I hadn't spoken to him more than half a dozen times in the three years I'd been with the firm. I was never quite sure whether he knew who I was. He said good morning to me politely enough. At least he knew I worked there.

I watched the lift doors close behind him and thought how queer it was that Sir Henry, who was a teetotaller, vegetarian and non-smoker, should be at the top of something like Gross Enterprises. It was a fine example of circumstances taking charge of men, for he had started out with cheapSelf Help and How to Do It books. Probably the change to what you might call rational publishing had been imperceptible even to Gross himself. Now he might think that he ran the machine, but really the machine ran Sir Henry. No doubt he had paid for his knighthood like an honest man. It had been awarded for "services to publishing", which was one of the best jokes on publishing that I had ever heard.

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