This is the House (1945) by Shelley Smith

I found out about this author through Tomcat at Beneath the Stains of Time, who reviewed this novel in May. I was quite surprised by how easy it is to get in print, though the catch with the cheaper options was that it came in a large print edition. Not the end of the world but a little disconcerting to read, if you’re not used to it. It also intrigued me that my copy started out as a library book, though it doesn’t seem to have been a very popular one – only taken out once…

Today’s read is set on Apostle Island in the West Indies and events soon conspire to leave paralysed Julia Jacques alone in her room and it is not long afterwards that holidaymaker Quentin Seal makes the unpleasant discovery of her death… Yet at the inquest a verdict of death by misadventure is given and little more is said about the matter until death strikes again… In some ways you could treat the setup of this story as a wacky and exotic St Mary Mead, with the elderly spinster sister who breeds cats and interferes in her secretary’s personal live too much. The secretary herself is efficient yet highly secretive, so who knows what she is hiding? There is equally the now widowed husband, who is said to have loved his wife deeply, but was that really the case? Add to the mix a rakish and out of cash young son, an increasingly troubled priest, an unfaithful wife and her jealous husband, as well as a newly arrived beachcomber and you have a fine collection of suspects to contend with.

Overall Thoughts

I have a confession to make. I am worried I am becoming a reading Grinch. Both Tomcat and John (blogger of Pretty Sinister) loved this book, yet I don’t find I hold the same enthusiasm for it. But before you panic or deploy Kate seeking missiles, I didn’t hate it either. I just found myself somewhat in the middle. Let’s be positive and start with some of the things I liked…

  1. The way the first death is revealed to the reader. It is a great moment which encapsulates a high peak of comedy followed by an abrupt drop to tragedy.
  2. Quentin Seal. Seal makes for an unobtrusive but pleasant amateur sleuth. He gets the job done but is not excessively competent if you know what I mean. It just seems a shame that his mystery writing background wasn’t used as much as I would have liked, though it is funny when the local police force say they learnt everything they know from his books – books which he sees as potboilers and mere entertainment.
  3. I liked how the second death develops into a potentially locked room mystery – yet boy oh boy did I not like how it was solved!

Perhaps it is the ‘hodgepodge’ nature of the novel, as John describes it, part detective story, part thriller, which didn’t work completely for me. There are definitely some elements which were far-fetched and came out of nowhere, jarring with the plot. This meant I didn’t feel wholly satisfied with the final solution, though I did like the final twist Seal delivers to the gathered suspects.

Hopefully my reading apathy will have abated for my next read.

Rating: 4/5

Just the Facts Ma’am (Silver Card): On an island

6 comments

  1. You know what you need in your reading diet, Kate? Freeman Wills Crofts. I know, I know. You don’t like Crofts, but it will help you appreciate what you’ll be reading next. For the first ten books, anyway.

    I think you were very fair with your fair-star rating. Unfortunately, you didn’t share our enthusiasm.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re really not selling my next read to me? Do I read the Crofts first in order for the Carr to see better in comparison? Is it that bad? Can I change my book? Maybe I’ll have a day off reading instead…

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  2. Thanks for the review, Kate, as I remembered picking it up after reading John’s review. I recall feeling slightly lukewarm about it, and so wondered if I got the wrong end of the stick when I read TomCat’s endorsement of the novel.

    “I liked how the second death develops into a potentially locked room mystery – yet boy oh boy did I not like how it was solved!”

    In particular, I recall feeling dissatisfied with the solution of the second death. Did you also get the sense that certain key details were left out – and it therefore wasn’t overtly fair-play?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe we got the wrong end of the stick together? lol And I agree there are 2-3 pieces of info which come out a bit too late for my likely and the blatant breaking of one of Knox’s rules didn’t help either.

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  3. Was it just too weird for you, Kate? Come on, confess. :^D I loved EVERYTHING in this book. You barely talk about anything that makes the book worth reading — the unusual setting, the historical references, the pet gibbon (!), Napoleon Orage, Boris Borodin, the voodoo lessons, the slasher movie style murder in the second half. It’s rife with fantastical and preposterous incidents and characters. And as far as thumbing her nose as Knox’ rules I say bring it on! The more rule breaking the better.

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    • I think I like a different sort of weird. The setting was unusual, but not used as much as I would have liked. Interaction with indigenous characters is minimal and not hugely favourable, the gibbon I felt sorry for, Boris left me cold and I’m no fan of slasher movies so thankfully that parallel did not spring to mind when I was reading it. Let’s be charitable and say I wasn’t in the right mood for it.

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