If you're a fan of old-school romantic suspense, then you cannot go wrong at all with Daphne du Maurier. Especially if you pick up Rebecca, which I wa...moreIf you're a fan of old-school romantic suspense, then you cannot go wrong at all with Daphne du Maurier. Especially if you pick up Rebecca, which I was very pleased to finally do. Many of the elements in this book are classically Gothic: the innocent young new bride, the brooding husband, the dead first wife, the remote mansion, the creepy housekeeper, and such. They are in fact Gothic enough that it took me a bit to realize that the novel was in fact set in a modern (as of the time it was written) time frame! In that respect, du Maurier reads a lot like Mary Stewart, and if you like Stewart you'll probably like du Maurier very much.
Our story starts off with a young woman working as a companion in Monte Carlo to the odious Mrs. Van Hopper. She's saved from exile to New York in Mrs. Van Hopper's company by falling in love with an older man, Maxim de Winter, who is said to be haunted by the recent death of his first wife. To our heroine's amazement, Maxim proposes to her, and she is whisked off to his mansion in Cornwall, Manderley, as the new Mrs. de Winter.
Once there, she discovers that Maxim, his housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and the rest of the staff in the house are all still dominated by the memory of Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter--who, even after her death, is such a potent force that our shy young heroine is driven to despair. But as this is indeed a Gothic-style suspense novel, that is of course not all. For there are suspicious circumstances indeed about how Rebecca died!
It must be noted that our heroine is never actually given a name--which, it turns out, was a deliberate choice of the author. The edition I have includes a section at the end in which du Maurier explains to her readers that she never actually thought of a name for the character. It works wonderfully, though, as a symbol of how so thoroughly the second Mrs. de Winter is overwhelmed by the impact her predecessor had on Manderley even after her death.
There's an original version of the book's ending included with my edition, too, which is worth reading and comparing against the beginning of the finished story, since du Maurier moved a lot of that material into the initial chapter of the book. From a writer's perspective it's fun to see her explanations for why she did that, and from a reader's perspective and a writer's perspective alike, I can appreciate her choices. Without going into detail, I'll say that for me as a reader, it seemed that du Maurier absolutely made the right choice, since her original ending was way too reminiscent of Jane Eyre.
I won't say more for fear of spoilers, even though this novel's old enough that many of you out there who are my age or older may have already read it, or may have seen the Hitchcock film that was based on this work. (And if you're a Hitchcock fan, I can add too that I can absolutely see why Hitchcock made this into a movie; it's very much right up his alley.) As with Mary Stewart, the pacing is slower than a modern reader may expect. But if you don't mind taking your time, and in fact like to indulge in an author's rich and slowly building prose, Rebecca will reward you. Five stars.(less)
Moving Target, the first of her Rarities Unlimited series, is perhaps my favorite of all of Elizabeth Lowell's books. Not because she does anything hu...moreMoving Target, the first of her Rarities Unlimited series, is perhaps my favorite of all of Elizabeth Lowell's books. Not because she does anything hugely different in this book that she does from the rest of them, mind you--but more because she happens in this one to mix all of her plot and character ingredients into the exact right recipe to suit my personal tastes.
Serena Charters inherits an ancient manuscript when her grandmother is murdered. Like you do in these sorts of plots, soon discovers that she's the latest in a long descent of women, all of whom have the name Serena, charged to guard this manuscript and keep it safe and secret. And when there's an ongoing plot to keep something secret, there are naturally those who are out to get their hands on it. In this case, there's a wealthy patriarch desperate to lay his hands on the Book of the Learned, no matter what it takes.
Meanwhile Erik North, our hero, is a manuscript appraiser employed by Rarities Unlimited. Erik too has been seeking the Book of the Learned for his own reasons, and, again like you do in these sorts of plots, soon enough teams up with Serena to find and protect it.
And hands down, Serena and Erik are the two big draws for me in this book. I like the female-focused backstory for Serena's family. I like her grandmother. I like the history of the original Serena, and the scrap of mysterious cloth that's all that remains of a dress she wove, adding a very light hint of the paranormal to an otherwise prosaic romantic suspense setup. Just as importantly, I like Erik--he's confident, competent, has his personal form of art he likes to express, and comes across very well as an equal to Serena rather than someone in a greater position of power than her. As for the other characters, the antagonists are suitably threatening without being ridiculous or over the top, while the supporting characters at Rarities are reasonably entertaining.
All in all a fun read. I'd definitely recommend this one as the first one to hit for anyone interested in reading an Elizabeth Lowell book. Four stars.(less)
The Secret Sister, published under the name of Elizabeth Lowell, is a reworked version of a novel called The Secret Sisters, published under the name...moreThe Secret Sister, published under the name of Elizabeth Lowell, is a reworked version of a novel called The Secret Sisters, published under the name of Ann Maxwell. I haven't read the original version, but I can safely say that the Lowell version is an acceptable little romantic suspense novel.
Our heroine du jour is Christy McKenna, a fashion writer, going about her fashion writer business in New York until she gets a call from her long-estranged sister Jo. Jo needs her help, and Christy wants absolutely none of this--until an assignment from her editor forces Christy to head west anyway. Her sister's disappearance shoves her onto the trail of not only Jo, but a hidden cache of ancient Native American artifacts as well. And our obligatory brooding hero is Aaron Cain, an outlaw archaeologist, who's a bit unusual for a Lowell hero in that he's actually a convicted felon. (Yet, as he is in fact the Obligatory Brooding Hero, he was convicted for assault of an Obligatory Unsavory Person Who Actually Deserved It.)
As Lowell novels go this was perfectly readable, if not outstanding or unusual. The main things that appealed to me about it were the atmospheric descriptions of the Colorado terrain and Lowell's general competence at chemistry between her lead characters, the latter of which is why I keep reading her. Three stars.(less)