Alice Campbell was an author I came across earlier this year when researching for my blogpost on weird mystery fiction titles, which you can find here if you missed it at the time. Though unlike Campbell’s 1946 novel, The Cockroach Sings, today’s title seems fairly normal.
Spider Web (1938), has the kind of cinematic plot that you can imagine of early mystery thrillers. Catherine West goes to visit her cousin’s widow, Germaine Bender in Paris. On the way there she fortuitously becomes acquainted with one of Bender’s solicitors, Geoffrey Macadam, who unsurprisingly becomes the romantic lead. However, Catherine is not entirely sanguine about her visit. Firstly this is due to a letter from one of Germaine’s friends, warning of something peculiar going on in Germaine’s household. But when no one comes to pick her up from the station, Catherine becomes even more suspicious. When she finally arrives at Germaine’s apartment it is evident to the reader that Germaine’s two key servants are taking advantage of her bed bound state – though Catherine being the typical heroine takes longer to twig to this. In particular it seems that Jeanne, (Germaine’s maid), and Eduardo, (her butler), are keeping back housekeeping money, as well as selling some of her possessions. However ousting these two is no easy task, as Germaine is convinced that she is helpless without Jeanne, who deals with the outside world for her. Equally it seems as though Germaine’s mental state is less than stable, with Jeanne and Eduardo building up a picture of a suicidal woman. Whilst Catherine is trying to figure all of this out her relationship with Geoffrey deepens and she enlists his help in getting to the bottom of the matter. The real question is figuring out what Jeanne and Eduardo’s ultimate goal is and what action they will take to achieve it and the narrative soon shows the violent lengths they will go to. There is also the issue of the mysterious man who keeps hanging around the apartment block. In keeping with the film like quality of the plot, the ending is suitably dramatic in a thriller like fashion.
I have harped on a lot about the cinematic nature of the book and in retrospect I feel this is the type of plot which works much better on the screen. It is a plot which is rather familiar and has rather familiar character types. The interest lies in how it will all turn out. This can be achieved with a great deal of suspense in a fast paced film, but unfortunately in a 310 paged story it comes across as quite slow and predictable. With such a well-known plotline brevity is key and alas this is not what Campbell choose to do. I have read much worse and in fairness to her the final quarter is quite exciting and has some unexpected drama. The mild sensation fiction and gothic elements also worked well, and again in fairness to Campbell, her central hero and heroine are likeable. I think before trying any more of her work I would like to get some recommendations as to which are her better stories. So if you know of a good one let me know!