If there’s one setback to the profligacy of quality GAD blogs now found online, it’s that very little in my reading gets to take me by surprise any more. Something good tends to get shouted about (this is, after all, why we’re here) and then others buy it and shout or grumble as they see fit…but we’ve gone in with a ringing endorsement in our ears beforehand. I’m not complaining, it’s a lovely problem to have — and I contribute to this as much as anyone — but I was moved to reflect on picking this for review that it’s one book on my TBR that I knew nothing about. So now allow me to pre-prejudice the experience for the rest of you…
Okay, so moving my star ratings to the top of my reviews spoils the eventual outcome of this post, but here’s the thing: this is a very, very good book…until the last two chapters. Only in the closing stages, so very important in the annals of GAD, is this divested of higher regard, because it’s great for about 200 pages, and probably something I enjoyed all the more because I didn’t know what was going to happen. About the only thing I thought I knew about this (namely, that it contained an impossible crime) turned out to be false, so I was fending for myself and desperately hoping it would pull it off come the end. Alas, not to be.
The story is simplicity itself: the matriarch of a wealthy, influential Connecticut family dies, this is revealed to be murder — whodunnit? Really, it’s no more than that, and the simplicity of the focus is one of the many factors in its favour. We only properly see three locations in the whole narrative, but the mix of family, associates, lovers, and yet-to-be-determineds is well-handled and diverse enough to hold the interest admirably (even the servants play a part!). And it’s definitely helped by Strange — pen-name of Dorothy Stockbridge Tillett — writing like this:
A marked change had come over him. His elation had left him. His florid face was pale and there were blue rings under his eyes and around his mouth. His heavy body seemed to weigh forward, like the body of a fat old man. No one spoke to him. The eyes that followed him were filled with the secret satisfaction reserved for the misfortunes of the wealthy, overlaid with a little unwilling pity.