I had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probablyI had to stay up all night with my sick dog, so I finished this book probably about 3:30 this morning. It's a good read -- not great, and it probably wouldn't be of much interest to anyone except vintage crime readers and people who are into (like I am) historical crime fiction based on actual murder cases. This book, like Marie Belloc Lowndes' Letty Lynton, is a take on the Madeleine Smith case of 1857; unlike Lowndes, who modernized the story and moved it to England, Ashe (who is also known as Christianna Brand) chose to keep her story in Victorian-era Glascow. Another thing that sets the two apart is that Ashe adds a strange twist to the case that I didn't see coming.
I won't give details just in case any vintage-crime reader is interested in this book, but the novel is set up very nicely so that it's only near the end of the story when it hits you exactly what's actually happened here, which turns out to be a big surprise. Getting to that point may seem a little slow and, also like Letty Lynton, Ashe's story seems to hang in the chick-lit realm for quite a while until darkness falls. While I totally dislike romance-ish crime fiction, the folly of l'amour does serve a purpose here and to her credit, Ashe doesn't let it ruin or take over the story. Making just one further comparison to Lowndes' book, while both authors examine class distinction in their work, Ashe takes things a wee bit further by 1) looking at things for a while from a servant's point of view that shows that life in service wasn't always as it was in Upstairs Downstairs and 2) examining the gradations in the system that existed in upper-class Victorian society, where, for example as in the case of the father of the main character, being x number of years away from a family fortune based on trade was actually a stigma to be lived down.
It's a fun little book that satisfied my appetite for historical crime fiction, and I most definitely appreciated the surprising twist in the story. I'm afraid it may be a little tame for modern readers who look for a lot of action or kickass heroines in their crime, but vintage crime lovers should definitely enjoy it, especially those familiar with the Madeleine Smith case.
And that reminds me -- while I'm a work widow this coming week, I'll be watching David Lean's 1950 black-and-white movie about this Victorian murder entitled Madeleine starring Ann Todd, Lean's third wife, who also had a role in one of my all-time favorite BBC productions called "Maelstrom." ...more
Talk about obscure novels! This one is so obscure that I had to enter it into the Goodreads database myself.
Everyone knows Marie Belloc Lowndes for hTalk about obscure novels! This one is so obscure that I had to enter it into the Goodreads database myself.
Everyone knows Marie Belloc Lowndes for her novel The Lodger, but with a bit of digging I discovered and bought a copy of her Letty Lynton written in 1932. As with The Lodger, Lowndes based this novel on a true crime, this time the story of Madeleine Smith, a young woman who found herself standing in the dock in Glascow in 1857 accused of a scandalous murder. At the same time, while Letty Lynton doesn't have that keen psychological edge Lowndes gave to The Lodger, it is still a book worth reading, if for no other reason, for the eye-popping ending that came out of the blue as a total surprise.
[As an aside, this novel (also as was the case with The Lodger) was made into a movie, this one starring Joan Crawford and Robert Montgomery. Sadly the movie is out of circulation, as I discovered when I went to try to buy a copy; it has something to do with legal rights, but all I can hope for now is that TCM will run it again some day.]
Bringing Madeleine Smith's story more up to date and moving it out of Glascow, Lowndes' novel is set in the small English town of Thark. The novel's focus is on the somewhat sheltered 18 year-old daughter of a millionaire, Letty Lynton. Among Letty's many traits, she is pampered, shallow, at odds with her mother (for whom the sun rises and sets in Letty's older brother) and yet she is so beautiful that men are drawn to her like bees to honey. Sadly, one of these men, wholly unsuitable for Letty's station, gets it into his head (after being led on shamefully by young Letty, who has a habit of doing that sort of thing) that the two are engaged to be married, and constantly pressures Letty to allow him to meet her family. Things take a terrible turn when our young darling is introduced into London society and becomes the object of a respected lord's affection -- the Lynton family is ecstatic but what they do NOT know is that Letty's future and indeed, the reputation of the entire Lynton family is in jeopardy.
Even though this novel may sound like a work of 1930s chick-lit, it is actually anything but. At first I was wondering if this novel was going to go anywhere other than Letty's ongoing dalliances with men, but the author didn't let me down. The beauty of this novel is once again on the psychological side -- while not as suspenseful or disturbing as Lowndes' The Lodger, the author does a fantastic job of having Letty repeatedly dig herself into a quagmire of her own creation from which there literally may be no escape.
While written in the 1930s, and probably only satisfying to readers within a certain niche, it is still a very good crime novel and above all, a fine character study, which seems to be the author's forte. I would recommend it to readers of English crime novels, to readers of interwar-period British fiction, and to anyone who may be interested in the works of Marie Belloc Lowndes. If the opportunity ever arises to read this book, I guarantee that you'll discover one of the best and most appropriate endings to ever find its way into a crime novel, which for me seems to be ever more of a rarity these days. ...more
I'm going to post abut this book closer to its release date in May; in the meantime, since I seriously need shelf space, someone (in the US) can haveI'm going to post abut this book closer to its release date in May; in the meantime, since I seriously need shelf space, someone (in the US) can have my copy. Free, I'll pay postage - just leave a comment. ...more
for the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girfor the longer version (which I mistakenly just left long here earlier - my apologies), you can go here; otherwise, read on.
The murder of a call girl in the Villejuif area of Paris has more than a few people on edge. The murder itself is not an event in this novel, but what happens to the protagonist of this novel, M. Hire, is based on fallout from the fear surrounding the killing. It all begins when the concierge of M. Hire's apartment building spies a bloody towel on his washstand while delivering mail, and she makes the leap that M. Hire must be the murderer, setting this story in motion. From that point on, M. Hire's daily life is scrutinized unceasingly, except at night in the privacy of his apartment, when he watches the beautiful red-haired woman in the apartment across the way. However, everything changes for M. Hire when one night he realizes she is watching him as well.
What will strike anyone who's familiar with Simenon's Maigret series and then reads this novel is the huge difference between the two. The series novels tend to work toward a solution, have a policeman as a main character who cares about some sort of justice and has definite clues to follow. Here, Simenon sort of turns the roman policier on its head, and the result is one of the best books I've read in a very, very long time. It is a fine example of his "roman durs" ("tough" novels), much more serious "in tone and intent" than his series novels; it is the term Simenon used "to refer to all those novels that he regarded as his real literary works."
The Engagement is short, but don't let that fool you -- it is a beautiful book that should be (imo) on everyone's reading list. Most especially recommended for people who prefer reading about people over plot. ...more
The Lodger has long been one of my favorite novels; reading it again a second time proved no less suspenseful than it did the first time through.
MariThe Lodger has long been one of my favorite novels; reading it again a second time proved no less suspenseful than it did the first time through.
Marie Belloc Lowndes based her novel very loosely on the story of Jack the Ripper, and the novel is set in London at a time when a series of horrific murders blamed on a person known only as "The Avenger" is the big news on the streets. At the same time, the story is not really about these murders; it is actually the story of a husband and wife who find themselves in dire financial straits and who are quite literally pulled back from the edge of starvation and ruin when a gentleman takes a room in their home. Calling himself Mr. Sleuth, the man has strange habits, including walks in London's foggy streets and reading Bible verses about wicked women. But for the Buntings, especially for Mrs. Bunting, the lodger and his money is literally their salvation, and it is because of this that Mrs. Bunting is forced to carry a terrible burden, one that tears her up inside with both guilt and fear.
While some readers might be disappointed that the focus of the novel isn't on Jack the Ripper (or his Avenger persona here), I think Lowndes' intent was much more of an intense psychological study of a woman who is caught up in a horrible dilemma that offers her very little choice and leads her to a near breakdown. This may be why some people found it slow going, with very little happening vis a vis the Avenger and the crimes. However, my feeling is that it's possible that the book has often been misread -- to me it is very successful, highly atmospheric and downright claustrophobic. For me, it's a story where the tension and feeling of dread builds slowly as the novel progresses, and when the ending came around, I felt like I could actually breathe again. To me, if a book has that much impact on a reader, it's a damn good one.
Highly, highly recommended -- but it's a book best gone into with an open mind and no preconceived notions. ...more