Vanished by Danielle Steel

cameo of child at center of gray and black dust jacket
The child is gagged.

Vanished is a totally atypical, can’t-put-down mystery from the queen of romance novelists, Danielle Steel.

The story is set in 1938 just after Kristallnacht in Germany and while the Lindbergh baby kidnapping was still fresh in American minds.

Marielle Patterson is the devoted mother of four-year-old Teddy, and dutiful wife of multi-millionaire Malcolm Patterson, for whom she had worked briefly as secretary. Both parents adore Teddy and are polite to each other.

Just hours after Marielle had accidentally run into her ex-husband at a church on the anniversary of the accident in which they lost their just-walking son and unborn daughter, Teddy is kidnapped from his bedroom.

Marielle’s ex-husband, Charles Delauney, is charged with kidnapping. Marielle doesn’t believe Charles could be the kidnapper, but all the evidence points to him.

When the case comes to trial, Marielle’s past marriage, divorce, and the mental problems after losing her children are made public. Malcolm blames Marielle for the kidnapping.

Without family or close friends, Marielle comes to rely on an FBI special agent for emotional support through an ugly trial in which the prosecutor tries to make it look as if Marielle is to blame for the kidnapping.

Steel wraps up the story in manner both hopeful and realistic.

Vanished by Danielle Steel
Delacourt Press. ©1993. 304 p.
1993 bestseller #6; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

While My Pretty One Sleeps

Title page of "While My Pretty One Sleeps"Mary Higgins Clark’s While My Pretty One Sleeps is a traditional murder mystery in the “cozy” tradition, but set in New York City.

The novel opens with a man from New York driving 35 miles through a snow storm to dump the body of a woman he murdered beside a steep path in Morrison State Park.

Safely back in the city, he realizes “the one ghastly mistake he had made, and knew exactly who would almost inevitably detect it.”

The late Ethel Lambston hadn’t been a particularly popular woman. The 60-ish freelance writer had a knack for annoying people which she practiced until her tongue was lethal.

Her ex-husband had been so glad to be shut of her that he opted for life-long alimony payments that are keeping him and his second wife in poverty 20 years later.

Douglas, her nephew and sole living relative resents her treating him like a lackey.

Even the fashion designer Ethel paid to select her outfits for her, Neeve Kearny, didn’t like her much.

And Neeve’s father, former NYC police commissioner Myles Kearney, had met Ethel once and never wanted to see her again.

Well-plotted and well-paced, While My Pretty One Sleeps is formula fiction, but done well enough that readers won’t object.

While My Pretty One Sleeps by Mary Higgins Clark
Simon and Schuster. ©1989. 318 p.
1989 bestseller #10; my grade: B

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

Curtain: Poirot’s last case

In Curtain, the last Hercule Poirot mystery, novelist Agatha Christie takes Poirot back to the setting of the 1920 novel that began the series: Styles Court.

That’s a mustache under  the Curtain.

As then, Poirot is joined by Captain Hastings. Unlike then, Poirot is now old, deformed by arthritis, using a wheelchair.

Styles Court is now a guest house. Poirot has persuaded Hasting’s daughter, Judith, and the Franklins, who are her boss and his wife, to come to Styles Court.

There are other people staying at the house, Poirot and Hastings have never met.

Poirot has asked Hastings to come to help him investigate the guests and prevent a murder which he is sure is going to be committed.

Poirot has already identified five seemingly unrelated murder cases in which no one doubted who the murderer was. Yet Poirot believes the person responsible for all five of the murders was someone else—a person who is at Styles Court.

With Poirot confined to a wheelchair, it’s up to Hastings to do the legwork.

Poirot fans will appreciate this unexpected end to the 55-year series.

For those who don’t know him, Curtain is not a good introduction to the little Belgian with the mustache.

Curtain by Agatha Christie
Dodd, Mead [1975] 1st ed. 238 p.
1975 bestseller #3. My grade: B

© 2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

 

The Door Conceals Classy Murder Mystery

Mary Roberts Rinehart can be counted on for mysteries with a cast of people with motive for murder and a maze of clues. Her novel The Door is in the classic “the butler did it” tradition, complete with a butler. Readers get all the clues they need to solve the murder, with enough red herrings to keep them from getting it right.

Miss Bell, a well-to-do, older woman, tells of the investigation into the disappearance and murder of Sarah Gittings, a private nurse who had worked for the whole Bell family as needed for years.

Suspicion falls on Jim Blake, Miss Bell’s cousin. The DA puts together a solid case, but something about it doesn’t feel right to the toothpick-chewing Inspector Harrison. The family rallies around Jim, doing some sleuthing on their own. Miss Bell helps by destroying evidence that would have bolstered Jim’s defense.

At the last minute, Rinehart pulls the threads together to finger the real murderer.

Although The Door is definitely a Roaring Twenties period piece, it remains solidly entertaining today.

I was disappointed Miss Bell and the Inspector didn’t pair off, but perhaps Rinehart felt the Inspector’s habit of dropping chewed toothpicks would lead to another murder.

The Door
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Farrar & Rinehart, 1930
314 pages
1930 bestseller # 6
My grade: B

© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Ourselves to Know Is Full of Surprises

Novelists usually use technique of a narrator who got the story from somebody else when the veracity of the story is in doubt. In Ourselves to Know, John O’Hara turns turns that conceit inside out.

As a child growing up in Lyons, Pa., Gerald Higgins knows Robert Millhouser by sight. He ferrets out the story that Millhouser shot and killed his wife in 1908. Gerald doesn’t understand why his grandfather and parents respect Millhouser despite the murder.

When Gerald is grown, Millhouser him to write the story, with the stipulation that Gerald not publish it for 20 years.

Within this complicated framework, O’Hara presents a riveting story of complex people in a deceptively innocent-appearing era.

Although sex in all its permutations is part of that complexity—in fact, is behind the murder—O’Hara’s focus is on personal change.

No one in this novel is static. People make choices. Choices change people.

In the hands of a lesser writer, Ourselves to Know could have become either a trashy novel or a boring, literary one. O’Hara manages to present a novel worth reading and makes the reading enjoyable.

What’s more,  despite the fact that the identity of the murder is known almost from the beginning, O’Hara pulls off a surprise ending.

Ourselves to Know
by John O’Hara
Random House, 1960
408 pages
1960 bestseller # 5
My grade: A-
© 2010 Linda Gorton Aragoni