Source: Review Copy
Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Damsel in Distress
Having read a couple of Jerrold’s other novels I was interested to see how she handled the thriller genre. In the Dean Street reprint Curtis Evans intelligently speculates whether this novel was written around the same time as Let Him Lie (1940), due to the WW2 setting and got rejected, to then be published later after the war finished. Although by this point Evans suggests that it ‘was out-of-date compared with contemporary British crime thrillers, such as Michael Gilbert…’ However, for modern readers this will not be a problem.
There May Be Danger (1948) begins with out of work stage manager and actress Kate Mayhew, who after seeing a poster for a missing evacuee called Sidney Brentwood decides that she will go and find him. His disappearance occurred near to a farm in Radnorshire where Kate’s friend Aminta Hughes works as part of the land army, which further persuades Kate to follow through on her decision. Some suspension of belief is needed here but it is only a minor point and requires no more suspension of disbelief than your average mystery novel from this era. Although I will say that in Let Him Lie, the female character’s role in the solving the crime comes across as more natural than Kate’s does in this one.
Kate’s first port of call though is to Sidney’s aunt and this is one of the small veins of comedy which runs through the book, as his aunt is more concerned over her cats than her nephew who has now been missing 3 weeks having taken off in the night whilst staying with the Howells, his host family. This is one example of such humour:
‘Now that all her cats were out of the room, Miss Brentwood seemed a little more able to concentrate on the comparatively unimportant matter of her nephew’s disappearance.’
When Kate arrives at the Howells some of the key questions she needs to find answers to or rather eliminate is was Sidney’s disappearance an accident or deliberate? An adventure gone wrong or merely another instance of a home sick child? There does feel rather a gap between Kate deciding on her mission and her actually producing any information or results, as the middle chunk of the book sees Kate spending most her time getting her bearings and engaging with the locals and another newcomers such as a group of Americans who are working on creating a home for London children. Kate does not find a fellow eager amateur sleuth in her friend, Aminta, but this is more than made up for in Sidney’s best friend, Ronnie Turner, but also from a blast from Kate’s past, Colin Kemp, an archaeologist who she broke up with a few years ago.
Information concerning Sidney’s disappearance begins to surface after a number of night time excursions on Kate’s part and in keeping with the thriller, adventure and almost at times gothic feel of the book, there is an unnerving empty house:
‘You know who is in the house! Your fear is in the house, all the fear of darkness and the unknown that has ever driven men mad, has taken shape in the house and is waiting for you.’
There are also rumours of secret tunnels and passageways, mysterious lights, chases and more. Personally I think the second half of the book is more engaging plot wise as it is filled with more of these events and is more dramatic and gives Kate’s otherwise flimsy and unstructured investigation, direction.
In Let Him Lie, I really enjoyed the main female lead Jeanie Halliday, as she is intelligent and on the whole unflappable and importantly overall transcends beyond the weak hapless woman who marches into danger without thinking about the consequences. However, this sort of female lead is not apparent in There May Be Danger, as Kate increasingly becomes the quintessential damsel in distress investigator. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote of such characters that they are:
‘irritatingly intuitive as to destroy that quiet enjoyment of the logical… [and] they are active and courageous, and insist on walking into physical danger and hampering the men engaged on the job’ (Sayers, 1928; 1948: 79).
Kate rather fits this mould of female investigator as her investigation is primarily fuelled by her imagination and hunches, yet her perceptions of some of the characters are completely wrong and part of wonders whether she might fit into the Had I But Known (HIBK) sub-genre. Moreover, Colin is often used in the book as a sounding board for the information she does gather, making her question her often erroneous first impressions. Colin is also her rescuer, as when it comes to dramatic survival situations Kate is not very good. One example: If someone gives you a gun for your own protection, forgetting where you put it down is probably not a good idea and there are many other and some bigger howlers she also commits.
Yet within a narrative which could have been trimmed, especially of some of the more descriptive passages, there is a good story set within WW2 England and despite the ninny of a female lead, the other characters are really well portrayed and created, such as Ronnie Turner and the thread of comedy which runs through the piece also makes it a good read. It is not Jerrold at her best in my opinion as I think she is much better at more detective orientated novels and I much prefer Let Him Lie, but at the same time I would not completely dismiss this book.
Sayers, Dorothy L. (1948). The Omnibus of Crime. In: Haycraft, H. The Art of the Mystery Story. New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 71-109.