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Archive for the ‘Mystery’ Category

The Eighth Day begins with murder of Breckenridge Lansing in his yard as he and his friend John Ashley are engaged in their customary Sunday afternoon rifle practice.

Tried and convicted for the murder, Ashley was rescued from execution by six silent, disguised men and never heard from again.


The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
Harper & Row, 1967. 435 p. 1967 bestseller #6. My grade: B+.

Having hooked his readers, Thornton Wilder plays them for another 400 pages, now letting them drift backward on the story line, them abruptly jerking them forward into the Great War era.

Set out in linear fashion, the plot would be fairly simple. Wilder’s literary style makes it complicated—which appears to be his point: The world’s bid and wide and our perspective is narrow.

Wilder dips deep into the histories of the Lansings and Ashleys, seeking family traits that the 1902 characters might have inherited that could explain their behaviors.

The time shifts nearly hide the absurdities in the plot.

Wilder’s characters are clearly drawn, entirely believable bundles of heroism and absurdities.

Despite that, whatever is distinctive about the characters is crushed beneath Wilder’s self-conscious style.

quote : compares way some people naturally idealize to silk moth's secretion

He produces bon mots as continuously as a Bombyx mori secretes silk.

quote: idealism of youth compared to silk moth's silk secretion

Two comparisons to a Bombyx mori secreting silk within 16 pages is one mot too many.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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collage of 1920s photos and posters with surprint "The Jazz Age was delightful providing one wasn't actually awake during it."

Until chapter 32, Twilight Sleep is an amusing, satirical tale of an well-heeled family in New York City in the roaring twenties.

Pauline Munford fills her life with activities to improve herself and her world — a world from which she keeps herself well insulated.


Twilight Sleep by Edith Wharton
D. Appleton, 1927. 373 pp. 1927 bestseller #7. My Grade: B+.

Her husband, Dexter, fills as much of his life as possible with his law business so he won’t have to enjoy Pauline’s management of his life.

Pauline’s children, half-siblings Jim and Nora, see their mother’s faults, but afford her the courtesy of believing she means well.

Every one except Pauline worries about Jim’s flightly wife, Lita, who is more than ready to dump Jim for a movie screen test.

Fortunately, Dexter steps in, taking an interest in Lita, arranging for her to come to the Munford’s country home for a vacation while Jim goes fishing with this father.

The story is as light and purposeless as the ’20s — until chapter 32.

Then the off-hand comments of the first 31 chapters ignite in one brief, blinding flash that changes everything except Pauline’s refusal to see anything she doesn’t want to see.

Edith Wharton’s story is so frothy, you won’t realize how cleverly she’s plotted it and how well the characters are drawn until that extraordinary chapter 32.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Poem from frontpiece to The Red Planet superimposed on NASA photo of Mars

Poem from the front piece to The Red Planet

The Red Planet is a memoir narrated by Duncan Meredyth, a widowed Boer War veteran living in a small English country village in 1914. Duncan is cared for my his ex-sergeant who was disfigured in the same shell blast that took Duncan’s legs.


The Red Planet by William J. Locke
1917 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg eBook #4287. My grade: A-.

As friend to his peers and “Uncle” to local young people, Duncan gets to know nearly every thing that happens in Willingsford.

As the story opens, Duncan’s neighbors, the Fenimores, learn their son has been killed in France.

Less than a year earlier their daughter had drowned.

No one had asked aloud why Althea was on the tow-path at midnight.

While Fenimores mourn, Duncan learns Betty Fairfax, who had been engaged to the heroic Major Leonard Boyce, is going to marry Capt. Willie Connor, whom Duncan thinks a nonentity.

Duncan is also surprised to see upper-crust Randall Holmes with his arm around Phyllis Gedge, daughter of a socialist builder.

As Duncan hears village gossip, observes who is with whom, and puts two and two together, William J. Locke develops and redevelops the novel’s characters.

By turns funny, morose, sympathetic, and dogmatic, Duncan always seems like a real person whose opinions on patriotism, heroism, and human nature need to be taken seriously.

©2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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If you want to know why The Daughter of Anderson Crow was a bestseller, look at B. Martin Justice’s illustrations.

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If you want to know what’s wrong with the novel, look at Justice’s illustrations.


The Daughter of Anderson Crow by George Barr McCutcheon
B. Martin Justice, illus. Dodd, Mead 1907. 1907 bestseller #3. Project Gutenberg ebook #14818. My Grade: B-.

George Barr McCutcheon’s starts out writing a funny novel about Anderson Crow, Tinkletown marshal, fire chief, and street commissioner who is just smart enough to not let Tinkletown see how dumb he is.

That first part of the novel is illustrated with cartoonish line drawings as funny as McCutcheon’s text.

The second part of the story is about Rosalie Gray, who the Crows raised like a daughter after finding her in a basket on their doorstep one winter night.

Her parentage was a mystery that even self-proclaimed super-sleuth Anderson Crow couldn’t solve.

A note in the basket said the Crows would receive $1000 a year to raise the child.

No one around Tinkletown had that kind of money.

The illustrations for Rosalie’s life as a young woman are lush scenes, suited to the Gothic romance style McCutcheon adopts whenever he focuses on her.

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Eventually McCutcheon gets Rosalie suitably married, and turns his attention back to Anderson Crow long enough to give readers one final laugh before the novel ends.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Millionnaire Daniel Maitland comes home as a young woman leaves his Manhattan apartment building whose other occupants are away.  Maitland senses someone has been in his rooms.

Nothing is missing, but there’s a small, woman-sized hand print on a table. Maitland sets a brass bowl upside down over it.

miscellanous brass bowls.

Any of these brass bowls would do to protect a woman’s hand print.


The Brass Bowl by Louis Joseph Vance
1907 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg ebook #8741. My grade: B-.

Warned by his lawyer the family jewels kept at his country home could tempt burglar Dan Anisty, Maitland goes to retrieve them.

On the ferry, he sees the same woman he saw leaving his building earlier and falls madly in love.

She’s on her way to steal Maitland’s jewels.

So is Dan Ainsty.

By coincidence, Ainsty and Maitland look like identical twins.

Who is the woman?

How does Ainsty know which houses are unguarded?

Could a beautiful woman possibly be a bad one?

It’s all very mysterious and very confusing, especially to Maitland, whose mental processes are, at best, lethargic.

Like the plot, the main characters are too familiar to be interesting.

The Brass Bowl might have worked as a movie — it has chase scenes and gunfights plus a janitor and a detective straight out of silent films — but there’s not enough substance to satisfy any but the least discerning readers.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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No one could mistake The Black Bag for literature with or without a capital L.

But for a puzzling mystery at a break-neck pace, The Black Bag is an unmistakable winner.A black bag with that title and author Louis Joseph Vance's name in gold type on the bag.


The Black Bag by Louis Joseph Vance
Illus. Thomas Fogarty. ©1908. 1908 bestseller #9.
Project Gutenberg ebook #9779. My grade: B.

Philip Kirkwood is preparing to leave London for San Francisco. A Mr. Calendar asks Philip to carry something to America for him.

Philip declines. He doesn’t trust Calendar.

In in the hotel dining room later, Calendar asks Philip to escort his daughter home, saying he expects to be arrested momentarily.

To spare the girl, Philip agrees.

Looking for a man with a girl, detectives stop Philip.

Calendar gets away.

“Home” turns out to be an unlighted townhouse with a “To Let” sign.

Walking to his hotel, Philip has second thoughts about leaving Miss Calendar there.

He returns, finds the door ajar, the building in darkness.

Within those events, Louis J. Vance has hidden all the prompts for Philip’s subsequent adventures—chases on land and sea by hansom, train, automobile, and boat—and the story’s dramatic denouement.

Discerning readers will see that within a year the besotted Philip will be bored stiff by Dorothy Calendar, but that’s a story for another novelist to tell.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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When she learns of her sister’s engagement, eight-year-old Bettina “Betty” Vanderpoel cries, “He’ll do something awful to you….He’ll nearly kill you. I know he will.”

Sir Nigel Anstruthers turns out as nasty as Betty predicts.


The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
1908 bestseller #5.
Project Gutenberg ebook #506. My grade: A-.

Green, hilly English countryside with a few sheep grazing, no people in sight.When he realizes Reuben Vanderpoel won’t support him, Sir Nigel craftily isolates Rosalie from family back in New York, then bullies her into transferring her property to him.

While Rosalie withers, Betty is educated in France, Germany, and in company of her astute capitalist father.

At 20, Betty goes to England to see Rosalie.

Sir Nigel has thoroughly cowed Rosalie and Ughtred, his son to whom the estate is entailed.

Betty takes charge, using her charm and her father’s money to make the estate liveable and her sister comfortable.

Inevitably, the Vanderpoel heiress is swarmed by suitors.

Betty’s heart, however, throbs for Lord Mount Duncan, who scorns the practice of marrying American money to put a deteriorating English estate to rights.

Although Frances Hodgson Burnett gives the novel the love-interest of a romance and the suspense of a thriller, the novel is deeper than those categories.

Burnett explores personalities, digs into gender roles, and shows how England and America were separated by culture and reunited by money.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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