The Rich Pay Late
The Rich Pay Late is Volume I of the novel sequence Alms for Oblivion by Simon Raven, published in 1964. It was the first novel to be published in The Alms for Oblivion sequence though it is the fourth novel chronologically. The story takes place in and around London in 1956 and culminates with the Suez crisis and how it afflicts some of the characters. .
Characters, in the order of appearance
- Donald Salinger – Printer. Partner of Jude Holbrook. Engaged and later married to Vanessa Drew. Romantic but otherwise a man of caution.
- Jude Holbrook – Printer. Partner of Donald Salinger. Originally bachelor of arts in Literature turned printer. Tries very hard to buy the major share of the magazine Strix from Lord Philby. As a man repulsive in general. Unhappily married with former model Penelope while he tries to be a good father to his neglected son Donald (godson of Salinger), the only person he have some feelings for. Have had a short romance with Vanessa Drew and have Angela Tuck as a mistress even though she dumps him at the end of the novel. Loses his son, who dies of meningitis and disappear.
- Miss Beatty – Secretary at Salinger & Holbrook. Spinster who takes care of her old mother. Somehow attracted to Holbrook who helps her to get her mother to a home for old people. Later killed in some gruesome way, even if details aren't revealed.
- Somerset Lloyd-James – Editor of Strix, a magazine of commerce. Unhappily married. Engaged in S & M with Maisie and later Susan Granger. A devout catholic who has the habit of writing down his train of thought and signing this with A.M.D.G. (Ad maiorem Dei gloriam). Careful though he is, he always destroys these papers. Appeared earlier in Fielding Gray.
- Vanessa Drew – Promiscuous young woman who have had sexual relations with many of the male characters. Eventually marries Donald Salinger though she continues with much of her earlier life style.
- Jonathan Gamp – Friend of Salinger and Drew. Witty homosexual.
- Lord Philby – President of the board of the magazine Strix, a post he inherited.
- Ashley Dexterside – Employee at Salinger & Holbrook. Homosexual. Has some kind of relation with Carlton Weir.
- Penelope Holbrook – Wife of Jude Holbrook. Former model.
- Donald Holbrook – The neglected son of Jude Holbrook. Dies of meningitis.
- Angela Tuck – Demanding mistress of Jude Holbrook. Gets rich when her husband, Mr Tuck, is run over. Appeared earlier in Fielding Gray.
- Old Mrs Beatty – Miss Beatty's old mother who is forced to a home for the old. Finds it very amusing when her daughter is murdered.
- Tom Llewyllyn – Freelancing journalist and writer who sometimes work for Strix. Ladies man and bon vivant who is in constant need of money. Coins the phrase Art for Art's Sake but Money for God's Sake!” Betrays Peter Morrison but regrets this later on.
- Norma – Dancer and mistress of Llewellyn.
- Tessie Buttock – Friend of Llewellyn.
- Peter Morrison – MP. Rather honest. Leads the group of "Young England.” Resigns at the end of the book. Appeared earlier in Fielding Gray.
- Captain Detterling – MP. Allied of Morrison. Appeared earlier in Fielding Gray and The Sabre Squadron.
- Carton Weir – MP. Allied of Morrison.
- Lady Susan Grange – Mistress of, in turn, Detterling, Salinger and Lord Philby. She settles for marriage with Philby.
- Harry Dilkes – Member of the board of Strix.
- Professor Robert Constable – Member of the board of Strix. From Lancaster College. A man of high morals. Appeared earlier in Fielding Gray and The Sabre Squadron.
- Maisie Malcolm – Mistress of Lloyd-James who has the habit of spanking him.
- Mr and Mrs Anthony Holbrook – The boring and greedy father of Holbrook and his intellectual and highly educated mother.
- John Growes – Solicitor for Salinger & Holbrook. Under the thumb of Holbrook, who helped him with a doctor for abortion when he made Vanessa Drew pregnant.
- LaSoeur – Doctor. Have made abortions on Vanessa Drew twice.
- Max de Freville – Gambler and Bon Vivant. Is mentioned in The Sabre Squadron.
- Mark Lewson – Hustler and failure in general.
- Felicity Lewson – Italian Contessa. Ruined because of her husband.
- Helen Morrison – The loyal wife of Peter Morrison.
- Fielding Gray – Officer and friend of Somerset. Only mentioned during a party. Protagonist of the novel Fielding Gray and a major character in The Sabre Squadron.
- Burke Lawrence – Film Director.
- Alfie Schroeder – Journalist at Billingsgate Press. Somewhat decent. Appeared earlier in The Sabre Squadron.
- Lord Billingsgate – Media Tycoon.
- Reverend Purchase – Priest with archaeology as a hobby. Lives in the village next to the mansion of the Morrison family.
The story opens in 1955. The printing firm of Salinger & Holbrook (mainly Holbrook) is interested in becoming major shareholders in Strix, a magazine of commerce. Donald Salinger, Jude Holbrook, and Somerset Lloyd-James all have trouble with women. Holbrook and Lloyd-James are both unhappily married; Salinger gets engaged to the promiscuous Vanessa Drew who tries to restrict her sex life (to only a few places and not with people Salinger knows or even knows of).
Holbrook, a repulsive man who hates old people, help his secretary Miss Beatty to force her old mother into a retirement home. The spinster Beatty becomes more lively after this and picks up a rather boring man on a pub. Later on, she is found gruesomely murdered in her flat, although the details aren't revealed. Lloyd-James manages to make his friend Peter Morrison MP a member of the board of Strix, so the board consists of Lloyd-James, Morrison, Lord Philby, Harry Dilkes and Roger Constable.
Morrison is against Salinger & Holbrook buying Lord Philby's place, despite his friendship with Salinger. One reason for this is his dislike of Holbrook, who has not given a raise to employee Dexterside and who didn't attend Miss Beatty's funeral. Holbrook is trying to make Lloyd-James into an ally. Lloyd-James expects that this could improve his political career and also bring him some money. Holbrook also knows of the constant infidelity of Vanessa Drew to Salinger and he blackmails her to persuade Salinger to be more positive about buying Strix. Since Salinger at heart is a rather vain man, she succeeds in this.
After their honeymoon, Salinger and Vanessa (now Vanessa Salinger) throw a big party which is not a complete success. Salinger tries to mix his former friends, the intellectual proletariat, with his newer acquaintances, the country gentry. Susan Grange breaks the lavatories just for the fun of it. Angela Tuck and Somerset Lloyd-James meet for the first time in over 10 years and discuss events that took place in "Fielding Gray.” Tom Llewyllyn gets extremely drunk and is rude to the Morrisons, then (for £200) reveals to Holbrook and Lloyd-James a scandalous story: in 1944, Peter Morrison MP made a 14 year old girl pregnant, and she married her fiancé who took on the role of the father. This unhappy man has told Lloyd-James of the whole thing. Towards the end of the party Llewyllyn behaves even more outrageously and knocks over statues in the garden. Right then it is revealed that the huckster Mark Lewson has stolen £75 from Salinger. Susan Grange, who bathed naked in the pool, gets really depressed and is escorted home by the chivalrous Lloyd-James.
Some time after the party Vanessa finds out that she’s pregnant. Since the father may be a black man it would be tricky to suggest to Salinger that he’s the father, and Vanessa settles for abortion. Lloyd-James, who often engages in S & M, starts a relation of that kind with Susan Grange, always interested in trying something new. Susan tells Lloyd-James that he, however, must settle with the role as “second string lover” since she’s already engaged to another man. Holbrook checks the story about Morrison and finding it to be true, tries to blackmail Peter Morrison into voting for Salinger & Holbrook as new majority holders but he refuses. Right after this, Lord Philby mentions casually to Lloyd-James that he has Susan Grange as his mistress, Lloyd-James reveals nothing.
Holbrook, having had a bad day in general, writes a number of letters to parliament, the press etc. with the story about Peter Morrison. People around him consider this utterly foolish. Since Llewyllyn is mentioned as a source of the story he gets haunted by the surprisingly decent journalist Alfie Schroeder. Llewyllyn, haunted by bad conscience, tries to deny the whole affair and even tries to give Peter Morrison some help but Peter refuses, in a friendly way.
Salinger is going to visit old Mrs Beatty but loses his way and walks into the abortion clinic where he finds Vanessa, who faints at the sight of him. Salinger is fooled into believing the child was his and forgives Vanessa the whole thing while he promises her a trip around the world so they can have some quiet time for themselves.
Both Llewyllyn and Schroeder go to the little village where Morrison’s bastard is living, to discover the truth. When they meet in the village they decide to co-operate. Schroeder finds out that the girl Morrison was said to have raped (almost) was blind at the time, but Morrison’s father later paid for an operation to recover her eyesight.
Susan Grange settles for marriage with Lord Philby and Lloyd-James finds that all his plans have come to naught. He has fallen out with Salinger because of the failed affair, he has fallen out with Peter because of his betrayal to him, he will not receive money or improve his political career and he even loses his mistress. Angela Tuck, on the other side, inherits a fortune since her husband Mr. Tuck has been run over when drunk. Salinger, planning for his trip around the world, pays Holbrook to dissolve their partnership since his disgraceful role in the Morrison affair will ruin Salinger's reputation. Salinger even doubts the mental condition of his soon-to-be former partner.
Schroeder and Llewyllyn find Purchase, the village clergyman, and after a bit of hesitation he tells a very different story about Peter Morrison and the girl. The young blind Betty was raped by a gang of boys after she had been deliberately left alone by Mrs Vincent, the mother of her fiancé. Peter and his father came to her rescue but when she woke up in the arms of Peter she thought, shocked as she was, that he was the seducer. The reverend had been told this by Mrs Vincent on her deathbed.
Angela, now rich, summarily dumps Holbrook and tells him how inhuman he is. Llewellyn has great success with a book about communism and gives 50% of the royalties to Lloyd-James, under the terms of a loan he gave Llewyllyn. Llewyllyn don’t care much about the money (since there is lot of it) and Lloyd-James despite his earlier setbacks, makes a fortune. During a meeting Peter Morrison reveals to Llewyllyn why he didn’t try to defend himself during the scandal. The Suez crisis is approaching and as a former military man, Morrison's conscience wouldn’t allow him to criticise the army in public, despite the fact that he private feels the action foolish. He needed an excuse to resign which Llewyllyn's scandal gave him. Morrison's good friend, Detterling, is heading for Suez and that wouldn’t have made things easier for the honest MP.
The book ends with a party hosted by the famous gambler Max de Freville, where the majority of the main characters appear. Donald and Vanessa are about to start their long trip, Lord Philby is there with his soon-to-be wife Susan, the pleased Lloyd-James is there, happy with his new income and a possible political career after Peter's resignation and Detterling’s adventures in Egypt. No one knows where Holbrook is, who has lately lost his son Donald to meningitis.