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Archive for the ‘Suspense’ Category

The plot of The Gabriel Hounds is one that Catherine Morland would have loved, had that Jane Austen creation lived in the 1960’s drug culture.

Christy Mansel is on a package tour of the Middle East when she bumps into her second cousin, Charles, who’s on a business trip.


The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart
M. S. Mill Co. 1967, 320 p. 1967 bestseller #9. My grade: B.

Christy and Charles decide to look up their Great Aunt Harriet, an eccentric recluse,  taking separate vehicles.

When her tour group heads home, Christy stays on in Beirut, hires a car and driver and goes to Dar Ibrahim, her great aunt’s crumbling palace in the Lebanon mountains.

Hamid, Christy’s driver, shoulders their way in over the objections of the old Arab porter.

They’re greeted by John Lethman, a young researcher who says he came to Lebanon doing research and Lady Harriet took him into her household.

Christy finds him plausible, given her Aunt Harriet’s fondess for young men.

Hamid sees the signs of a hashish smoker.

Mary Stewart keeps the story moving, with just enough sexual tension between the cousins to make Christy interesting when she’s alone on the page.

Stewart lets Christy talk far more to strangers than any reasonably intelligent young woman alone in a foreign land would do, but most readers will finish the novel before they notice.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Everybody over 40 knows what Rosemary’s Baby is about, just as they know Moby Dick is about a guy hunting a white whale.

creepy Victorian house on*Rosemary's Baby* book jacket

The difference between Ira Levin’s novel and Herman Melville’s is that there’s more to Moby Dick what everybody knows.


Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin
Random House, 1967, 245 p. 1967 bestseller # 7. My grade: C.

The story is about Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse, a young couple who move into a New York City apartment house noted for its Victorian architecture, its history of unsavory residents, and its unusually high rate of suicides.

Guy goes to work—he’s an actor who works mainly in commercials —and Rosemary putters at decorating, always with an eye to how the rooms can be rearranged to accommodate a baby.

After the inexplicable suicide of young woman who lived with the older couple next door, Rosemary and Guy get sucked into friendship with them.

Strange things start to happen.

Ira Levin, a master of the art of plotting, keeps the story moving briskly.

Levin doesn’t attempt to flesh out any of the characters beyond their initial descriptions. Nobody in the book learns anything or changes in any way.

The characters are dummies in an all-dummy cast which, in horror novels, may be the proper authorial pose.

Sympathy is wasted on dummies.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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In Greatheart, Ethel M. Dell has created characters readers will care about and eagerly follow, hoping for their happiness.

But, as often happens to Dell, when it’s time to end the story, she doesn’t know how to solve the problem she plotted.


Greatheart by Ethel M. Dell

1918 bestseller #6. Project Gutenberg ebook #13497. My Grade: B.


snow-covered mountains viewed from high above. People are tiny black wrinkles along path through snow.

Trekking through snow.

Greatheart concerns the three Studley siblings, Sir Eustace, Scott, and Isabel.

Since Isabel’s husband’s tragic death on their honeymoon and her subsequent mental and physical decline, the brothers have been trying in their different ways to help her back to health.

At a resort in the Alps, the brothers become acquainted with Dinah Bathurst, a perky English country girl traveling with Colonel and Lady de Vignes as companion to their daughter, Rose.

Scott is drawn to Dinah, but she’s tantalized by his handsome, athletic brother.

However, Eustace’s passionate pursuit of her soon frightens Dinah.

Scott’s attempt to discourage Eustace makes him even more determined to have Dinah.

Isabel comes out of her funk enough to try to protect Dinah, but she dares not protest when Dinah agrees to marry Eustace.

Dell is brilliant at creating suspense, and she makes Dinah’s behavior believable in light of her abusive mother and spineless father.

The only unbelievable element is sexual predator Eustace’s sudden reformation.

Unless, of course, a miracle happened.

© 2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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Mary Jane Ward’s The Snake Pit is a powerful story about mental illness, as terrifying in a quiet way as anything by Stephen King.

The novel takes readers inside the mind of one mentally ill person, Virginia Cunningham.


The Snake Pit by Mary Jane Ward

Random House, 1946. 278 p. 1946 bestseller #10. My grade: A.


Virginia was living in New York and working on a novel when she began having trouble sleeping.

She recalls saying to her husband “Robert, I think here is something the matter with my head.”

As the novel opens, Virginia doesn’t even know where she is. She thinks she must be in prison doing research for a book, but she isn’t sure.

She wonders if blurred vision is causing her fuzzy thinking, so she asks a nurse for glasses.

“If I’m without them much longer I’ll go crazy,” she says.

When she says crazy out loud, she realizes she has been refusing to acknowledge she is in a mental hospital.

That realization is the beginning of her road back to mental health.

Virginia’s recovery isn’t smooth.

She is given medication, shock treatments, confined in body-temperature baths, moved from ward to ward.

Virginia never knows what caused her problems or why they recede.

She only rarely realizes she is seeing a doctor.

The Snake Pit is a classic. Don’t miss it.

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A stodgy New England writer meets a sultry siren with a screw loose, setting the scene for murder and mayhem in Ben Ames Williams riveting novel Leave Her to Heaven.

Richard Harland meets Ellen Berent in New Mexico where she has come with her mother and sister to scatter her father’s ashes. Richard is fascinated by Ellen but something about her troubles him.

He decides he’ll remain a bachelor.

Ellen has other ideas.

Writing off her finance-lawyer, she maneuvers Richard into marriage, telling him, “I will never let you go.”

Ellen is jealous of Richard’s younger brother, Danny; of her sister, Ruth; of Richard’s friends; of his writing — of anything that takes Richard’s attention from her.

There’s a series of unfortunate accidents.

Danny drowns.

Ellen’s baby is stillborn.

Ellen herself dies of acute gastritis.

About two years later, Richard marries Ruth. They are just home from their honeymoon when Ruth is charged with Ellen’s murder.

To show Ruth’s innocence, her lawyer must show Ellen committed suicide. He puts Richard on the stand and probes the details of his deteriorating relationship with Ellen.

Leave Her to Heaven is well-plotted with keenly-drawn characters. Pristine New England forests provide stark contrast to Ellen’s poisonous malevolence, making this spine-chilling, can’t-put-down reading.

Leave Her to Heaven
By Ben Ames Williams
Houghton Mifflin, 1944
429 pages
1944 bestseller #7
My Grade: A-

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

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George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustark begins as a mystery, but quickly turns into a romance before accelerating into a thriller climaxed by a story-book ending.

On an east-bound train from Denver, Grenfall Lorry meets the lovely Miss Guggenslocker heading back to the Graustark capital, Edelweiss, accompanied by her aunt and uncle.

With help from the Paris postal service, Lorry and his Harvard pal Harry Anguish set out to find Lorry’s dream girl. When they find her, she turns out to be the princess of Graustark, and Graustark is in the throes of a financial crisis.

Castle in the Night

Castle in the Night

Lorry and Anguish overhear a plot to kidnap the princess. In true  American hero fashion, they rush in to save the day, thereby creating a real muddle. Every time Lorry opens his mouth, the muddles gets messier.

Graustark is the literary equivalent of a Strauss waltz, full of sound and movement, engrossing but not distinctly memorable.

McCutcheon provides enough castle dungeons and moonless mountain chases to satisfy the most devoted fans of gothic fiction. He’s less strong when it comes to developing character.

His Princess Yetive is a heroine worthy of the terms—smart, courageous, wise beyond her years—but she has all those characteristics from the first chapter. Between them, Lorry and Anguish manage to fill the hero role. Aside from falling in love, the men are basically unchanged by their experiences.

Like the characters, readers will be wrapped up in the events of the novel, but remain unchanged by anything they read in its pages.

Graustark: The Story of a Love Behind a Throne
By George Barr McCutcheon
1901 Bestseller #8
Project Gutenberg e-book #5142
 
Photograph “Castle in the Night” by Adiju
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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After a slow opening,  Harold MacGrath’s The Puppet Crown turns a  geeky  sovereign bond situation into a complex tale of political intrigue.

King Leopold of Osia, cousin of the late king, came to throne because a confederation disposed the king’s brother, Josef, and “placed him on [a] puppet throne, surrounded by enemies, menaced by his adopted people, rudderless and ignorant of statecraft. ”

The Diet authorizes Leopold to borrow for public projects; a departing British diplomat purchases the bonds.

When the loan is due 10 years later, in order to effectively foreclose on government of Osia shadowy political power brokers attempt to prevent the loan from being paid or extended.

The main character is Maurice Carewe, an American journalist turned diplomat. He arrives as Osia is preparing for the wedding of Princess Alexia to the crown prince of Carnavia. The prince will pay off the bonds as the bride’s dowry if the bond holder, Baronet Fitzgerald, does not extend the loan period. The prince, however, has disappeared. Maurice unwittingly identifies Fitzgerald, who is using an assumed name.  Thus begin cloak-and-dagger, dark-of night adventures  with skilled swordsmen and uncloaked, dark-of-night adventures with deceitful damsels.

The Puppet Crown ends in a shockingly unexpected manner:  realistically, not novelistically.

The valiant hero does not get the princess.

The cruel, scheming duchess does not get her comeuppance.

And there’s no happily-ever-after with the Austrian Empire on the rise.

Project Gutenberg

The Puppet Crown
by Harold MacGrath
1901 bestseller #7
Project Gutenberg e-book #3239
© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni

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