Earlier this year I reviewed one of Wade’s earlier novels, The Verdict of You All (1926), which has a decidedly puzzle focus and it was interesting to see how in his later work, such as in Lonely Magdalen (1940) he became more focused on character. However, in today’s read which was written in between those two, there is a definite mixture of both elements, with the first half of the book prioritising characters and relationship developments and fractures, which culminates in a death, whilst the second half of the story retains the focus on clues which can be found in The Verdict of You All.
Mist on the Saltings (1933) begins with a marriage, one which was formed with a great deal of idealism and optimism, just after the First World War. Yet 12 years on, still stuck in relative poverty and an isolated cottage at a primitive fishing village, with John still lacking fame as an artist, the dream life is definitely beginning to pall for Hilary. Deep down she still loves John but the relationship is decidedly stale. In to this time of discontent enters the novelist Dallas Fiennes, who comes to the area each summer to write his latest novel and this summer he has decided to make a conquest of Hilary. As Hilary becomes closer to Dallas and more distant with her husband, we see this process through all three characters’ point of views, realising where the misunderstandings are coming from. As I mentioned earlier the first half of the book culminates in a death which is investigated by the police in the second half of the story. There are quite a number of leads and clues to follow up on in this section. I don’t want to say much more as I think this story is enjoyed best knowing not too much about the plot. Like with The Verdict of You All this novel has a dramatic end/twist, which this time round I did guess, but it fitted the story very well so I didn’t mind too much. There are a number of familiar tropes used in this book, but I think Wade uses them and writes about them very well and in an entertaining way.
This novel’s greatest strength is its characters and the way Wade develops them, playing with your sympathies and with your character expectations. Wade writes about Hilary’s marriage and its disintegration in an engaging manner which is a skill to his credit, as detective novels where the murder happens half way through can sometimes have pacing issues, where the second half can drag on due to repetitive material. This is not the case here and it is easy to become engrossed in the developing love triangle. Hilary was also a character who interested me a lot, as in some ways she starts out in the book quite an independent woman, leaving home to enter the world of work rather than remain a mere poor gentlewoman. She also proposed to John rather than the other way round which I found intriguing, mainly because of the hard domestic life she then goes on to lead.
Class is also an underlying theme in the novel. Every echelon of society is mentioned in this book and all are shown to be suffering from the economic slump. Yet whilst with the upper classes the consequences are not being able to afford much artwork, it is the middle classes which struggle the most to gain appropriate employment, with the working class characters in the book appearing much more adaptable in finding work.
So all in all I found this a great read and I enjoyed the mixture of character and puzzle focus, which I also think showcases Wade’s range of skills, making it the strongest out of the three novels by Wade I have read.