Half a Rogue mixes romance, politics and bon mots

Harold MacGrath has the happy facility of producing novels that are better than they have any right to be.

In Half a Rogue, he does unexpected things with a predictable plot while keeping up a steady stream of commentary that makes a reader feel like MacGrath’s chosen confidant.

Times Square 190The New York Times building towering over nearby 4-story buildings as horse-drawn carraiges plod the street.s
                                              Times Square, 1905

Half a Rogue by Harold MacGrath
1907 bestseller # 10. Project Gutenberg ebook #4790. My grade: B.

Richard Warrington, a playwright newly come to fame, becomes close friends with Kate Challone, a young actress who stars in his plays.

When Kate announces she’s to marry Jack Bennington, a man in Dick’s hometown with whom he roomed in college, Dick is delighted.

With Kate leaving the city for Herculaneum, Dick decides he’ll move back home.

Herculaneum society is not happy its biggest employer has married an actress.

It’s also not happy that Jack’s younger sister prefers Dick to the local boys.

And, when Dick is tapped to run for mayor, the corrupt local political machine is not happy.

A private eye is sent to New York to dig up dirt on Dick.

Half a Rogue is a most unromantic romance.

Harold MacGrath has given a true story about fictional people in an imaginary town.

The story ends not with a “happily ever after,” but with a sigh and a terse, “Could have been worse.”

As, indeed, every life might have been.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Helen Has Little Romance, Lots of Gab in Old House

Helen Ward is young, unmarried, and at loose ends. The end of World War I left her with no meaningful occupation because,  as the daughter of a millhand who became rich from his patent on a process that revolutionized the mill operation, she can’t work for money.

Helen’s brother, John, runs the mill with too much respect for workers to suit his deranged father or Helen. She’s both pleased and miffed by her childhood sweetheart, John’s best friend, “knows his place” and makes no social overatures.

Adam Ward hopes his daughter will marry Jim McIver, another mill owner, and show John how workers ought to be treated.

As readers of romances know, Harold Bell Wright won’t let that  marriage happen.

However, this set-up for romantic froth about whether Helen will find happiness is overshadowed by more exciting questions:

Can communist Jake Vodell incite a strike at the mill?

If the mill workers stage a sympathy strike, will Adam Ward blow up his mill as he’s threatened?

Why does Adam have such contempt for his one-time friend Pete Martin?

The central character of  Helen of the Old House turns out to be The Interpreter, a larger-than-life character who  lost the use of his legs in a mill accident and now supports himself by making baskets.

The Interpreter’s dispassionate advice is as much sought now as his translation skills had been when he worked in the mill. Although confined to a wheel chair, The Interpreter doesn’t miss much that goes on. Sooner or later, all the characters end up at the Interpreter’s hut.

Wright lades the novel with inspirational speeches about the dignity of work and the brotherhood of men that sound like the script for a Pathe news reel.  The story is saved from death by sugar overdose by a couple disreputable characters of such nastiness they’ll leave you gasping for breath.

Helen of the Old House
Harold Bell Wright
Published 1921
1922 Bestseller # 10
Project Gutenberg ebook #9410
 
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Tobacco dominates Drivin’ Woman

Kentucky tobacco field
Tobacco field in Stanford Kentucky

Drivin’ Woman is a historical romance set against the backdrop of the tobacco industry.

As the Civil War ends, America “Merry” Moncure runs what’s left of her family and its plantation. Merry marries a cousin, Fant Annabel, and moves with him to Kentucky from her Virginia home.

When Fant  jumps from a riverboat to avoid a murder charge, he leaves Merry penniless and pregnant.  Fortunately, a distant relative who assumes as everyone does that Fant us dead, leaves his farm in trust to Merry’s child.

Merry drives herself and her hired help hard to make the farm profitable, but her “late husband”  reappears stealthily every few years, leaving her cashless and pregnant. The community and her four children consider Merry a whore.

Meanwhile, few savvy traders are turning tobacco into a major industry. By the time Fant is killed in a shootout in Merry’s yard, the trading syndicate has a stranglehold on tobacco farmers. One of its leaders is Merry’s brother-in-law.

The farmers unite to sell their tobacco as a block to keep the price up, but it’s Merry who saves the day.

Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier chose her historical setting well. It provides cover for a contrived plot and characters that never quite ring true. There’s plenty of entertainment in this novel, and a generous dollop of historical insight as well.

Drivin’ Woman
Elizabeth Pickett Chevalier
MacMillan, 1945
652 pages
My Grade: C+
1942 Bestseller #5
 

Photo credit: “Tobacco Field”  uploaded by carterboy http://www.sxc.hu/photo/560057

©2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni

And Now Tomorrow is too predictable

Old factory building
Old factory building

And Now Tomorrow is a predictable pot-boiler told by an “old woman” of 28 as she reflects on her youth.

Emily Blair grows up doing what was expected of a Blair of Blairtown, Massachusetts in the early twentieth century. She even falls in love with an employee in her family’s textile mill who is predicted to move into management of the business.

Unpredictably, Emily loses her hearing as the textile industry falls on hard times. A new, attractive doctor in town asks to try an experimental treatment on her. She reluctantly agrees, but doesn’t tell anyone for fear of getting her hopes up.

Meanwhile, Emily’s fiancé has fallen for her sister. He won’t desert Emily, however, because he pities her for her deafness. When experimental treatment begins to restore her hearing, Emily has to decide whether her hearing or her fiancé is more important.

Exactly what you’d expect to happen does happen.

Rachel Field’s characters are as predictable and innocuous as her plot. The real interest in the book is the labor trouble at the family textile plant. They reflect the nation’s economic woes of the mid 1920s as the country hurled headlong toward the stock market crash of ’29.

And Now Tomorrow
Rachel Field
Macmillian, 1942
1942 Bestseller #4
350 pages
My Grade: C
 
Photo credit: “old facility” uploaded by pipp http://www.sxc.hu/photo/52052
© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni