As part of my quest this year to read forgotten classics, one list put me on to Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, whom Raymond Chandler said was the top suspeAs part of my quest this year to read forgotten classics, one list put me on to Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, whom Raymond Chandler said was the top suspense writer in America in the 30s and 40s.
The Blank Wall is one of her most famous books and has been made into two movies, the most recent with Tilda Swinton. It is not so much a whodunit as a psychological exploration of how one woman's domestically tranquil life is shattered by the impulsive actions of her 17-year-old daughter, and all the decisions she makes (with the vital assistance of her African American maid Sybil) to try to deal with that crisis.
The plot begins with Lucia Holley discovering that her daughter Bee has been associating with an obvious cad on the make named Tom Darby who is twice her age. One night, Darby shows up at their beachfront home and she refuses to let her daughter see him. Her aging father then tells her he confronted the young man and shoved him off the end of a dock. The next morning, Lucia discovers Darby's body impaled on a boat anchor. Fearing the scandal that would come to her daughter and father from a criminal investigation, she decides to dispose of the body herself.
From then on, Lucia's life seems to careen from one inevitable crisis to another. A strange man shows up at the property with letters Bee has written to Darby, wanting blackmail money. Her husband Tom is in the Pacific with the Navy, and she will not tell her grandfather or her children what is going on as she tries to shoulder the burden of this cataclysm herself.
I won't give away what happens next in this concise, fast paced novel, but suffice to say that in trying to deal with the blackmail and then the police investigation of Darby's death, Lucia is thrown back and forth between calm-eyed courage and absolute mental paralysis, and that struggle in her mind about what to do, whom to trust, and what the right choice is dominates the rest of the book, right down to the gripping conclusion.
This is indeed a psychological thriller that is of its time and place, but it is so well written that it absolutely pulled me through to the end....more
I read this in a sitting after seeing a reference to it in H.L. Mencken's memoirs. Apparently it was considered quite scandalous in the early 1900s.
I' I read this in a sitting after seeing a reference to it in H.L. Mencken's memoirs. Apparently it was considered quite scandalous in the early 1900s.
I'm not sure how effective this play would be in today's climate, because it revolves so heavily around the early 20th century mysticism about mental illness and its inheritance. It's a spare play, but with plenty of melodramatic elements to go around.
Mrs. Alving is a wealthy widow who is thrilled her long absent son Oswald has returned for a visit. In the meantime, she is about to dedicate an orphanage on her property in memory of her husband, and Pastor Manders is visiting to do the honors. A maid, Regina, is under pressure from her neer do well father, carpenter Jacob, to leave the household and work for him as a barmaid (and occasional prostitute).
I won't give away the crux of this, but safe to say these relationships all turn out to be much more tangled than they at first appear, and while Ibsen is masterful at revealing one jaw dropper after another, the final one may be just a little too hard to accept in today's understanding of emotional illness.
Bill Hodges is a retired, decorated detective contemplating suicide when we meet him, watching afternoon TV in a city that mimics Cleveland or Toledo. Bill Hodges is a retired, decorated detective contemplating suicide when we meet him, watching afternoon TV in a city that mimics Cleveland or Toledo. He is most haunted by the cases he didn't solve, including a horrific mass killing when someone drove a Mercedes into a crowd of people waiting to apply for jobs.
Then he gets a letter from the killer, taunting him, and Mr. King is off on another tense romp. In what is expected to be a trilogy, Hodges starts to work on the case by himself, knowing he is violating the law by doing so, and ends up enlisting his bright, African American teenage neighbor and, eventually, a mentally troubled but computer-savvy woman who belongs to the family of the Mercedes owner whose car was stolen.
This isn't a whodunit, because we learn early on who the killer is, and his psychopathic, lonely existence as a computer store and ice cream truck salesman with a raft of computers in his basement and an alcoholic, codependent mother.
This isn't a flawless book. King doesn't have perfect pitch when it comes to the romantic interest Hodges develops in the sister of the Mercedes owner, but he is at his best in pacing and flow when he Hodges and his makeshift detective crew stumble toward the ready-for-cinema climax during a sold-out boy band concert in the local arena.