The Departure of Mr Gaudette (1964) by Doris Miles Disney

Today’s read was also published under the title Fateful Departure. My copy is a reprint by Macfadden. I’m wondering though if it is an abridged version, as it is only 144 pages long. If anyone knows more about Macfadden and whether they were producers of abridged novels, do let me know. Below is the synopsis which can be found from the Macfadden edition:

‘A man can’t vanish into thin air but that was exactly what Mr Gaudette had done. He was a quiet, lonely old man, and nobody cared that he was gone. Except the police. They cared. They knew that no one disappeared without a reason… and even quiet lonely old men sometimes have secrets too horrible ever to see the light of day.’

I have included it for the obvious reason of letting you know what the book is about, but also because I have quite a few bones to pick with it. The basic facts of the blurb are indeed accurate, but the way they are framed is completely off centre and provides a misleading picture of what the book is going to entail.

From this blurb you might assume that the character and life of Mr Gaudette will be the primary focus. What horrendous secret does he have? However, this is not the case. Instead the story opens with a seven-year-old boy named Jed (John Edward Dinardo). He lives next door to Mr Gaudette, who himself rooms with two sisters, Pauline and Addie Wheeler. It is from the boy’s viewpoint that we learn about Mr Gaudette’s plans once he retires, in particular his departure that Friday to head back to Burlington in Vermont where he has family. Alongside this we find out about Jed’s home life; namely the loss of his father and his mother’s steps into entering the dating pool once more. It is Jed who first questions why Mr Gaudette has not got in touch once he left, having promised in particular to send Jed a postcard. This is the first occasion when Jed unintentionally propels the plot forward, and his anxiety over Mr Gaudette becomes infectious to a degree.

The blurb also puts the police in the middle of things and presents them as a force determined to track down Mr Gaudette at all costs. Again, this is not correct. The police are eventually drawn into the matter through a missing person’s report, put in by Mr Gaudette’s niece. But when a telegram from him purportedly turns up, they are happy to let things drop.

This brings me to one of the weaknesses of this book. Since Jed is the pivot around which the plot rotates, the action must stay with him and this limits and restricts the range of overt events and actions that can take place to the confines of his normal life. Consequently, there is very little for the reader to go on as to what happened to Mr Gaudette. From time to time the reader gains access to the thoughts of adult characters, which perhaps gives them a little more of an inkling of what is going on. These moments become more prolific in the final quarter of the story, and therefore render the narrative something of an inverted mystery. You are told rather than shown what has happened to Mr Gaudette and who is responsible for that fate. I am therefore at a loss as to why the Criminal Record in The Saturday Review decided this tale was an ‘ingenious baffler.’ The reader is only baffled because they have nothing to go on…

If a young female had been the protagonist of this book, I think the narrative arc would have played out differently. In particular I think an older character would have been more active in the rooting out of information. Conversely, Jed plays a more passive role, happening upon things.

So if you go into this book expecting a puzzle mystery you will be rather disappointed. However, with a different set of expectations, there is quite a bit to enjoy with this story. Jed is a very effective character to have as the protagonist, despite the restrictions he imposes on the plot. Disney depicts the child’s viewpoint well, and he is an engaging boy to read about, with the reader feeling sympathy for his concerns. He is not one of comic crime’s precocious juveniles, and when his life is in jeopardy you are definitely rooting for him.

The motive involved in this affair is wonderfully unusual in its ordinariness. I do not think I have ever come across it before in my reading. It is such a moment of human folly, which makes the blurb look almost farcical in its inaccuracy. The power of the ordinary can also be found in the denouement of the book. The last two lines are so commonplace, yet in this context are incredibly powerful in what they do not say. I think this book probably needed more character depth in order to achieve an even greater emotional charge. Once more, this is a shame as the plot had the potential for it.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the blurb was written it way it is, to make things sound racier than they are, because of the mildness and subdued levels of mystery involved in the book, which then suddenly bursts into life at the end.

So this was no one’s Family Skeleton (1949), but it was certainly stronger and more entertaining than Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1970).

Rating: 4/5

2 comments

  1. McFadden another of the bottom-of-the-market paperback houses of he ’60s and ’70s, soon merged to become McFadden-Bartell (and I think they were bought out eventually by the folks behind Manor Books, who did issue some good books in low-budget but infrequently creative packages).

    Liked by 1 person

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