The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

Fine carved angels and lit candles are dust cover background.Imagine a mashup of a novel by Judith Krantz and one by Stephen King and you’ll have an approximation of Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour.

Rice begins her story in the present day, when a drowned man is revived by Rowan Mayfair, a neurosurgeon from a family of witches with special powers, who pulls him from the frigid waters of San Francisco Bay.

Michael Curry knows that while dead he was given some task to complete and given some unusual sensory powers. He’s forgotten what the task is and is scared by the powers.

Michael grew up poor, but grew a construction business that has made him wealthy.

By contrast, the Mayfairs are enormously wealthy and have been wealthy for four centuries: Rowan can write a check for two luxury cars on one day more casually than most people would write their monthly check to their electric company.

The duo fall in love and move to New Orleans where both their families have roots and Rowan’s family manages her trust fund.

It’s hard to care about the miseries of the super-rich, and even harder to care about the super-rich who may not even be human. Put their stories in a 965-page novel, and you’ve got a good doorstop.

The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
Alfred A. Knopf. ©1990. BCE. 965 p.
(Lives of the Mayfair witches series)
1990 bestseller #9; my grade: C-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Random Winds: Not the usual surgeon story

dust jacket art: Dr. Martin Farrell flanked by his lover in England and wife in New York
Lover and wife on opposite sides of the surgeon

Random Winds begins in the manner of an A. J. Cronin story of a poor boy who becomes a brilliant surgeon.

But nothing I’ve come across in the 20th century’s bestsellers is anything like Belva Plain’s Random Winds.

The liner notes describe the novel as a saga about three generations of doctors, but the story is really about just one of them, Martin Farrell.

There’s the usual faithful wife and alluring temptress, the surgeons clawing for preeminence, the wealth industrialist who comes comes to the rescue with funds for the surgeon’s pet project; those are required in novels about MDs.

Readers see everything in the novel through Martin’s eyes.

Martin is smart, hard-working, principled, essentially decent.

But he also takes everything he sees at face value.

Random Winds is compelling because Martin learns repeatedly that outside the operating room the evidence of his eyes and ears isn’t always true.

It’s not until his daughter, whom he thought would take over his scalpel, chooses a different specialty that Martin realizes what had actually happened in the episodes that were turning points in his life.

Plain’s characters learn and grow so that when they meet after a passage of time they can forgive what they cannot forget.

Random Winds by Belva Plain
Delacorte Press ©1980. 496 p.
1980 bestseller #8. My grade: A

©2019 Linda G. Aragoni

The Doctor is not a top Rinehart bestseller

Novels about doctors typically are tales about hard-working young men from poor families who, armed with only a stethescope, battle for justice, hand-washing, and marriage to millionaire’s daughters.

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s The Doctor follows in that tradition.


The Doctor by Mary Roberts Rinehart

©1935, 1936, 1963, 1964. This copy a Dell Edition, 1977 (paper) 448 pp. My grade B-.


Statue of doctor on pedestal thinking is central figure on cover of paperback edition of "The Doctor"Rinehart’s doctor is Chris Arden, a dedicated MD with hopes of becoming a surgeon.

He has rented office space and a bedroom from a shiftless family, the Walters, whose sole support he becomes when the alcoholic head of the family dies.

Katie Walters is in love with the doctor with a 16-year-old’s passion.

But Chris falls for the daughter of a wealthy, unscrupulous businessman. He won’t think of marrying until he can support her.

Beverly Lewis is equally smitten with Chris but unwilling to wait years for him to build a practice.

Chris is not a particularly appealing character. He’s nice to dogs and old ladies, but treats those closest to him as if they were furniture.

Katie and Beverly are not appealing either: Katie is too selfish, Beverly too much of a doormat.

The romantic ending is a deus ex machina that squeaks as Rinehart lowers it into the final chapter.

The Doctor is not a bad novel; it’s just bad compared to other Rinehart novels.

©2016 Linda Gorton Aragoni

K by Rinehart scrimps on happily ever after

Mary Roberts Rinehart’s  K  blends romance and mystery so satisfactorily that the unlikely plot coincidences aren’t noticeable until after the novel is back on its shelf.


K by Mary Roberts Rinehart

1915 bestseller #5. Project Gutenberg EBook #9931. My grade B.


When their circumstances fall below genteel poverty level, the Page women take in borders.

Newlyweds Christine and Palmer Howe move into what had been the Page’s parlor and back sitting room.

Mr. K. LeMoyne puts his suitcase in what had been daughter Sidney’s bedroom.

Sidney is in training as a nurse, which will eventually bring in a good, steady income.

She finds surgeon Max Wilson very attractive.

Joe Drummond, who loves Sidney, is frantic. He knows the surgeon’s reputation with women and fears the worst if Dr. Max takes an interest in her.

K settles comfortably into the neighborhood, falls silently in love with Sidney, and becomes the man everyone goes to with their troubles.

Who is K?

How did he come by his wealth of knowledge?

Why does nurse Carlotta Harrison fear K so much she risks offending Dr. Max to avoid him?

Rinehart produces answers, lets all the characters learn from their experiences, and pulls everything together so that everyone lives less unhappily ever after.

For boarding-house operators, less unhappily is as good as it gets.

­

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

In Green Light all plots look sickly

Green Light is religious novel with no theology and scarcely more characterization.

What it has are plots.


Green Light  by Lloyd C. Douglas

Houghton Mifflin, 1934. 326 pages. 1935 bestseller #1. My grade: C-.


1935-01_fc_greenlightThe main plot is about surgeon Newell Paige. When another doctor bungles a surgery and lets Paige take the blame, Paige is devastated.

Dr. Elliott had been Paige’s teacher, mentor, and hero. Besides, Paige had been fond of the late Mrs. Dexter and impressed by her faith.

Paige resigns, leaves town with his dog.

Paige is living under an assumed name when he meets Mrs. Dexter’s daughter, Phyllis. It’s love at first sight except that Phyllis thinks he is to blame for her mother’s death.

Everything comes right in the end, thanks to Paige’s dog and Dean Harcourt of Trinity Cathedral.

The Dean introduces various of his counseling clients to each other (1934 was pre-HIPPA), Paige’s dog matches him with Phyllis Dexter.

Lloyd C. Douglas fills the corners of the story with other canned plots and canned characters: a girl who wants a singing career, a woman who has left her married lover, a widowed professor with a charming, motherless daughter.

Each heartwarming tale is another nail on which to hang the Dean’s inspirational message: “My course is upward. . . .I go on through. … I get the GREEN LIGHT!”

What I got was a sick feeling from ingesting a novel long past its sell-by date.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

We Are Not Alone Quirky Novella with Cinematic Appeal

James Hilton’s We Are Not Alone is so British and so visual that reading it is like watching Masterpiece Theatre in your mind.

The story revolves around a harmless eccentric, David Newcome, “the little doctor” of Calderbury. Newcome is a brilliant surgeon with a childlike humility, honesty (he actually admits to now knowing everything!), and genuine concern for people. Newcome and his wife, Jessica, have little in common, except their son, Gerald, a timid boy who, depending on your point of view, has a vivid imagination or is an inveterate liar.

The doctor is called to treat a young German dancer who attempts suicide after a broken wrist prevents her from making her living. Newcome discovers Leni likes children and suggests his wife hire her to look after Gerald.

Jessica learns Leni had attempted suicide and starts wondering what else her husband hasn’t mentioned. She fires Leni just as war breaks out between England and Germany. Germans are no longer welcome in England. Newcome tries to get Leni back to Germany, but while they are on the way to the coast, Jessica is found poisoned.

Newcome and Leni die for the murder, but did they do it?

We Are Not Alone is quirky and intriguing. Its novella-length makes it a comfortable evening’s entertainment.

We Are Not Alone
By James Hilton
Little, Brown, 1937
231 pages
# 10 on 1937 bestseller list
grade B
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni