Friday’s Forgotten Book: The Wife of Ronald Sheldon (1954) by Patrick Quentin

 

I am not familiar enough with Quentin’s work to definitively type his writing, but I think today’s read is more of the psychological crime novel persuasion. The story opens with Jonathan Duluth, a chief partner in a publishing firm, funded by millionaire Ronald Sheldon. Jonathan is still dealing with his fractious relationship with his son, Bill, the pair of them both still suffering from the inexplicable suicide of their wife and mother respectively three years previously. Added into the mix is the return of Ronald, after a 6 month stay in Europe, bringing unexpectedly a new bride and his in-laws, all of whom are to live handsomely at the expense of Ronald. Jonathan is far from easy about this new arrangement – are the Lacey family on the make, with gold digging plans in mind? This is not a question to be answered until the end of the book. However it is a fatal mistake of Ronald’s to leave his new wife, who is much younger than him, in the library alone with Bill. It is not many weeks later when shots are fired and Jonathan is plunged into his worst nightmare. But can his amateur sleuthing brother, Peter, bring him out of it?

Overall Thoughts

If mystery fiction is all about the puzzle for you then this is not the book for you, as the sleuthing which leads to anything a) happens behind the scenes or b) happens in the moment of the solution being revealed, (a moment which begins with presenting the solution as a fait accompli before morphing into something slightly different). Upfront sleuthing by Jonathan invariably leads to the proverbial brick wall. The way this book holds your attention is through its characters, in particular Jonathan, who carries the whole story. It is his journey of learning to accept the past and to seeing those around him differently which mostly propels the plot. Quentin also does a good line in character reversal and providing the reader with the unexpected. The story is quite a moving one until the slightly cloying ending which was a little too trite for my tastes, but would work quite well for a film adaptation. The additional mystery is to do with Jean, Ronald’s new wife, who until the end you can’t decide whether she is duplicitous or not. The title makes her sound very important and in fairness to her, events are brought into being because of her presence. Yet for all that I found her a rather non-entity personality and somewhat in the background, compared to Jonathan.

In some ways this has been a bit of a lukewarm review, which might make my final rating slightly baffling, but Jonathan as a character is a huge reason behind this score as well as the writing style generally. This wasn’t an exceptional read, yet in comparison to some of my previous reads this month it was a good read for where I was at. Barely felt grinchy at all! I think I would try Quentin’s work again, so if anyone has any titles to recommend do let me know.

Rating: 4.25/5

 

19 comments

  1. 4.25??? This is one of the later Patrick Quentins, written solely by Hugh Wheeler, who was one half of the writing partnership that produced a lot of Golden Age style books under the names Q. Patrick and Jonathan Stagge. The earlier Patrick Quentins range in style from GAD fiction to comedy thrillers (‘Run to Death’) to straight thrillers (‘The Follower’). These Wheeler books are quite serious in tone (except for ‘Suspicious Circumstances’ which is fairly light and funny) and can be described as crime novels (as they were in the Gollancz editions) rather than guessing game potboilers. For me, as for Anthony Berkeley, they were the best things going in their day and I don’t think they’ve been bettered since. 4.25! I feel you misjudge the cleverness of the plotting here: Wheeler is trying to baffle the reader in these books and I think he achieves that admirably, yet when you look back at the story, it can be seen that everything fits together beautifully. As for recommendations, you might possibly prefer ‘The Man in the Net’ – a really brilliant and extremely tense piece of writing – but if you’re happier with GAD literature, then Q. Patrick’s ‘Death and the Maiden’ is particularly good.

    Liked by 1 person

      • ‘Death and the Maiden’ and ‘The Man with Two Wives’ (which I think is the best of the lot) are quite hard to find; ‘The Man in the Net’ might be easier to get hold of – though I believe there are plans to republish all the Quentin books soon.

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      • DATM is 1.99 on Kindle today. US Amazon.
        Puzzle For Wantons too.

        Even if you do not have a Kindle there are free Kindle apps for all devices.

        I am reading S.S. murder. Very fun so far. 2.99 today …

        Like

  2. Your description of this book is very enticing to me, since I am not so concerned about the puzzle. I have not tried anything by this author, but have heard things about him from various sources.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Not quite sure how I’ve managed it, but I’ve found every book by Patrick Quentin, but only one by Jonathan Stagge and none at all by Q. Patrick. Does this reflect their relative rarity?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I just finished this a few days ago. Definitely a page turner. Much more murder melodrama than murder mystery.
      There’s no reason for Peter Duluth to be in it really, except a commercial motive (one assumes).
      I think your rating is about right.

      Lots of PQ, QP in Kindle now. If you check periodically the prices sometimes drop at random. I picked up half a dozen at two bucks each.

      Liked by 1 person

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