Source: Review Copy (Felony and Mayhem)
An Offord a year seems to be a habit of mine and once again it is not one which disappoints. This pacey read set in San Francisco, focuses on hardware filing clerk, (Agnes) Cameron Ferris, which is in keeping with how Offord tends to have working women as her female leads. She is keen for adventure but sorely lacking it. The best she has is the interest of the head of her department Roger Tripp, who invariably tells her the entire plots of films he has seen and who also admires her for her solidity, wholesomeness and dependability – chuffed she is not. Yet she wonders if it is time to settle for and with someone. Tripp manages to persuade her to go on a holiday, (to a place his mother frequently goes to) and of course this holiday is fairly dire, with her guest room springing a massive leak one stormy night.
However adventure and danger are going to be entering Cameron’s life very shortly after this point, as she returns a day early, (luggage-less and down to her last 67 cents), from her wet holiday and finds a startled stranger, (Barney) in her apartment. Once she manages to assert herself on the point that this is her apartment and not his, (not as easy as you imagine – think of Ethel Lina White’s atmosphere of conspiracy in The Wheel Spins (1936)), she is confronted with a highly unusual explanation of Barney’s high handed conduct – an ominous tale of child kidnap and labour production sabotage – but can Cameron really trust all that she is being told? Events unfold at a rapid speed as the novel reaches its cinematic climax…
Offord packs in a healthy amount of action into this 184 paged story, and the tension remains high throughout due to the number of hours over which the events take place and also the fact that a lot of action is contained within Cameron’s apartment and apartment block. I think the uncertainty Cameron has over Barney is well done, as the pendulum does swing convincingly from either extreme. The love/hate relationship also allows for mild dose of comedy, (which prevents the grittiness and darkness of child kidnapping angle not overwhelm the plot), and I think my favourite line from Barney has to be: ‘If I knew you better Miss Ferris, I would show you my biceps.’ Don’t think I will be recommending anyone try that chat up line in a bar… Whilst my favourite spot of witticism by Cameron has to be her response to being called ‘wholesome-looking’ by an old lady on the bus: ‘I turned inwardly livid; but you cannot paste old ladies in the snoot.’
Although Cameron does fall into the category of a woman in jeopardy, I don’t think she is a true HIBK character. She has a lot more spunk and wry self-awareness – especially when it comes to romantic entanglements. I also think this plot felt less artificial than some HIBK novels that I have read. There is in a way a feeling of modernity with this book, the plot would not seem too out of place today. Additionally I think Offord is sometimes humorously undermining the conventions of a woman in jeopardy/HIBK genres. There are some examples I can’t really mention without giving away spoilers, but at the very beginning of the book there is a delightful passage where Cameron uses hyperbole to poke fun at the way certain texts attempt to inappropriately inject romance into every and all situations:
‘Sometimes the advertisements try to make us believe that there’s high romance in all types of business, could one but see below the surface. “Think,” they might say of a concern such as ours, “think of this carload of widgets, resting in Caya’s warehouse. Picture the far-flung territory over which they will eventually be scattered. The farmer on the lonely Dakota plains waits eagerly for the new widget without which his tractor will not run. The shipyards, springing up like magic from Maine to California, could not be built without widgets…”’
So all in all a great read, which keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end and the tightness of the plot would make it a good choice for a film.