Phyllis Whitney was 82 years old when she wrote this book. Seriously, guys - she was my mother-in-law's age (and I'm 51) and she would go on to write another 10 freaking books after she was 82. I'm giving it a third star just for that reason.
As far as the book itself, it certainly wasn't a bad book, although it also wasn't a great book. It's set in Key West, and at times Whitney got a little too travelogue in her descriptions. She usually does a better job integrating the setting details into the story itself. But, did I mention that she was 82 years old when she wrote this book? I'm still dealing with that fact.
This book definitely follows the Whitney formula: appealing young woman goes to a place where she is on her own, and some sort of dangerous situation develops. There is always romance, and sometimes the object of desire is a decent sort and sometimes he's the villain. There's always at least one questionable death that is usually murder, and the villain - who can be either male or female - often has a tenuous grip on reality. Often times, some historical crime is exposed.
In Dream of Orchids, Laurel is a young bookseller in New England whose mother has recently passed away, and who was abandoned by her father, Clifton York, a well known author. A young man shows up at her bookstore, asking her to visit it her father in Key West. Once she arrives in Key West, she learns that things are not as she had believed, and that there is something quite sinister going on with her father, her two younger sisters, Iris and Fern, a sunken Spanish galleon and the orchid house where her step-mother, Poppy, bled to death in a bizarre accident. There's also a creepy secretary, her scarred ex-husband, and Iris's much older and far too sketchy fiance, Derek.
This is not Whitney's best work. But goddammit, she was 82 when she wrote it. And that's amazing.
This novella was hard for me to rate - I am not really a fan of short works. Carmilla was good, but it could easily have been expanded into a full length novel. It makes more sense to me to put it in the context of the collection of which it was a part, which is why I've attached it to the full Oxford Classics edition of the collection.
The five stories in the collection are purported to be five studies from the casebook of Dr. Hesselius, an "occult detective." Shades of Dr. Van Helsing, perhaps? I can definitely see the influences that Carmilla had on Bram Stoker - there are a lot of analogs, from Laura (Lucy Westenra) to the location of story (the Austrian state of Styria, which has a very similar feel to the Carpathian mountains of Dracula). Both vampires have transformation abilities, with Dracula being capable of transformation into a large black dog, while Carmilla transforms into a large black cat.
The homoeroticism between Carmilla and Laura is overt, rather than subtle. It amuses me a little, honestly, to imagine how titillated and thrilling the repressed Victorians must've found the lesbian, erotic, languid relationship between Carmilla and her victims. Don't get me wrong, this is not a graphic by any stretch of the imagination, but the overtones are impossible to miss.
The weird name anagramming seemed really contrived to me and I didn't get it all. Carmilla. Millarca. Mircalla.
Anyway, I decided that I would go ahead & buy the full collection and read it before the end of Halloween bingo. At least, that's my plan!
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Carmilla was originally published in 1872.
"Before Dracula, there was Carmilla—the first seductive vampire to haunt readers’ imaginations
This classic of Gothic horror follows Laura, a woman haunted by a girlhood dream of a beautiful visitor to her bedroom. Now, a decade later, Laura finds Carmilla, who appears to be her own age, on the side of the road after a carriage accident. The two recognize each other from the same childhood dream and become fast friends. Soon after, Laura begins to experience mysterious feelings and is once again haunted by nightmares. She finds Carmilla strangely irresistible and longs to be with her.
But as the two friends grow closer, Laura’s health begins to fail. It becomes apparent that her enchanting companion is harboring a sinister secret. To free herself from Carmilla’s grasp, Laura and her family must fight for their lives."
A novella, Carmilla is under 100 pages long, and should be a relatively fast read! Because it is in the public domain, it's easily available through Project Gutenberg, or for free or near free download from Amazon.
Link to the thread in our discussion group: here.
Magical realism: a genre which expresses a primarily realistic view of the real world while also adding or revealing magical elements.
First published in 1970, The Secret Woman was written by the prolific Eleanor Hibbert under her Victoria Holt pen name. While this book was published in “Holt’s” early period, it was actually published in the middle period for Hibbert. There were a total of 32 books published under the “Holt” name, and of those 32, approximately 23 of them were published after The Secret Woman.
Victoria Holt tends to be very hit and miss. This one is a miss.
I think that, perhaps, Holt was going for an homage to Jane Eyre with this one, with Redvers as the Rochester character, the conveniently orphaned Anna as Jane, and Redver’s wife, Monique, as the ill-fated Bertha. Like Bertha, the mildly mentally ill, consumptive Monique comes from an apparently fictional island named Coralle. Bertha, of course, is from Jamaica, and is the daughter of a wealthy family.
The issues with this book start with the pacing. The plot summary is misleading in that most of the elements referenced in the summary do not appear until the 50% mark of the book. The first 50% of the book felt relatively superfluous, focusing on Anna’s childhood and young adulthood, being first sent to England without her parents, later being orphaned, and then being raised by her unpleasant, unloving, bitter Aunt Charlotte. This, again, may be an ill-advised attempt to copy Jane Eyre. Few writers have the skill to write a Jane Eyre character, and Holt fails completely.
The “meet cute” between our hero and heroine also fails. Redvers and Anna meet when she is 12 and he is 19. I can understand her romanticizing him, since he is a dashing young man. I cannot understand, and am entirely grossed out, by his apparent romanticizing of her. She was twelve. There is nothing at twelve to attract a young man of nineteen.
It isn’t until around the 55% mark that Red & Anna end up in one another’s company consistently. From there, the book devolves into a shipboard travelogue. Way too much of the narration is delivered through the diary of the third-wheel Chantel, which ground the story to a halt. The suspense/gothic elements don’t appear until around 75%, and by that time, I am done. That section could’ve actually been pretty interesting, if it had been expanded to be more of the book, and if Holt hadn’t decided that the best way to deliver the reveal was through a letter.
Note to authors: telling us why and how something happened through a letter written by the perpetrator is generally not an emotionally resonant method of storytelling. Again, the tension, the suspense, the drama grinds to a freaking halt while I read a three page letter written by the villain/ess (no spoilers here) as he/she is in his/her death throes.
The romance is also not very romantic. Redvers is basically a manwhore who gets himself into trouble and knocks up Monique, and then he is afraid to leave her because reasons so he marries her and treats her like shit. This is exactly the sort of person that I a looking for in a romantic hero. Right? I'm still trying to figure out what was wrong with alternative hero, Dick Callum, because he seemed like a fairly decent guy, even if his hotness quotient was not quite so high as that of Red.
As an Eyre retelling: fail. As a gothic/romantic suspense: fail. As a period drama: fail.
If you aren’t a Holt completist, don’t bother with this one. First you’ll be bored, then you’ll be irritated. And you'll probably hate everyone.
There needs to be a "How do you feel about this" face that is "irritated."
Anna Brett is a governess to a wealthy English family, a role she's convinced she'll be doomed to live the rest of her life. But when she meets Redvers Stretton, the dashing captain of a ship named The Secret Woman, and she's whisked from the bleak British coast to the sunny South Seas, she quickly realizes that things will never be the same. But with a murder dogging her steps and the mystery of a missing treasure haunting her dreams, Anna is forced to confront the clever captain-a man who may have just as many secrets as his ship.
I am at 35%, and so far, Anna Brett is not a governess, she met Redvers Stretton in the first chapter, and no one is being whisked away from anywhere. The plot summary is misleading, and something needs to happen soon. SOON. This book is on the road to nowhere.
As promised, I put together a bingo card for The Detective Club, based on the chapter headings in Martin Edward's The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.
Each number refers to the relevant chapter in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. The images are either a detail from the cover image of a book mentioned in the chapter, with the exception of #3, and I couldn't resist an image of Hercule Poirot for a chapter called The Great Detectives!
2. The Birth of the Golden Age: image: cover detail from The Mystery of the Red House by A.A. Milne
3. The Great Detectives: image: Hercule Poirot as played by David Suchet
4. Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!: image: cover detail from The Hog's Back Mystery by Freeman Croft
5. Miraculous Murders: image: cover detail from Miraculous Murders anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
6. Serpents in Eden: image: cover detail from Serpents in Eden anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
7. Murder at the Manor: image: cover detail from Murder at the Manor anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
8. Capital Crimes: image: cover detail from Capital Crimes anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
9. Resorting to Murder: image: cover detail from Resorting to Murder anthology, edited by Martin Edwards
10. Making Fun of Murder: image: cover detail from Ask A Policeman by The Detection Club
11. Education, Education, Education: image: cover detail from Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
12. Playing Politics: image: cover detail from The End of Andrew Harrison by Freeman Wills Croft
13. Scientific Enquiries:image: cover detail from Death of an Airman by Christopher St. John Sprigg
14. The Long Arm of the Law: image: cover detail from anthology of the same name, edited by Martin Edwards
15. The Justice Game: image: cover detail from Verdict of Twelve by Raymond Postgate
16. Multiplying Murders: image: cover detail from The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon
17. The Psychology of Crime: image: cover detail from Payment Deferred by C.S. Forester
18. Inverted Mysteries: image: cover detail from Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith
19. The Ironists: image: cover detail from Family Matters by Anthony Rolls
20. Fiction from Fact: image: cover detail from The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey
21. Singletons: image: cover detail from Darkness at Pemberley by T.H. White
22. Across the Atlantic: image: cover detail from Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith
23. Cosmopolitan Crimes:image: cover detail from Pietr the Latvian by Georges Simenon
24. The Way Ahead: image: cover detail from The Beast Must Die by Nicholas Blake
I'm just starting this one, now that I've finished Murder of a Lady! I am sure that I've never read this one, since I don't recall ever even seeing it before. Fingers crossed that it's a good one!
I found this book to be delightful and the ending made me laugh out loud with glee. The solution to the "impossible crime" was absurd and contrived - as these impossible crime solutions often are - but not such that I was annoyed.
I didn't guess whodunnit. I was pretty sure throughout the entire thing whodidntdunit, and I was right about that, but I focused on the wrong character.
The victim, Mary Gregor was an odious woman. She reminded me a lot of Mrs. Boynton, from Appointment With Death, which remains one of my favorite Christie mysteries. Some people go unmourned for good reason. The second inspector sent to investigate, Barley, was a blooming idiot with a bad case of confirmation bias - he decided who did it, and then try to squash the evidence into agreeing with him.
The book did drag a bit - this I cannot deny, and I agree with Tigus that the talky-mc-talkerson grew tiresome. I was totally astonished by the THIRD murder, and by the fourth, I was dying to get to the end! Overall, this ended up being one of my favorite of the BLCC reissues.
Classic noir: A subgenre of mystery that includes authors such as Dashiell Hammett, James Cain, Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich. Anything that also qualifies as "hard-boiled" will work for this square.
I've read the first four stories in this anthology:
The Case of Lady Sannox by Arthur Conan Doyle: this is a rather dark, non-Sherlock story about Douglas Stone, a noteworthy surgeon, and his married inamorata Lady Sannox. The conclusion is unforgettable and downright horrifying.
A Mystery of the Underground by John Oxenham: there was a lot to like about this "impossible crime" style story told through newspaper clippings. Someone is killing passengers on the underground as they sit alone in their carriages, and no one knows how. Unfortunately, the identification of the murderer came literally out of nowhere, so it was ultimately a disappointment.
The Finchley Puzzle by Richard Marsh: this story centered around Judith Lee, an amateur sleuth and recurring character who assists the police with her lip reading skills. It starts with an attempt on her life through a chocolate that has been fashioned into a bomb and gains steam with even more creative efforts to dispatch her into the world beyond. It was entertaining enough to motivate me to look read more by Marsh. So far, I've come up with The Complete Adventures of Judith Lee - Richard Marsh.
The Magic Casket by R. Austin Freeman: So far, this is the one I enjoyed the most. The hero of the tale is Dr. Thorndyke, and his sidekick is Christopher Jervis. It has a very Victorian Holmes/Watson vibe and evokes the London setting well.
‘London is an inexhaustible place,’ he mused. ‘Its variety is infinite. A minute ago we walked in a glare of light, jostled by a multitude. And now look at this little street. It is as dim as a tunnel, and we have got it absolutely to ourselves. Anything might happen in a place like this.’
I'll update with information about the additional stories as I finish them!
The books I'm going to read on a more immediate basis are the Capital Crimes anthology & The Tiger in the Smoke, to round out my survey of Chapter 8. In addition, Obsidian Blue & I were discussing reading The Secret Woman over the weekend, so that's ready to go!