As promised here is my review for the second story in the Hitchens twofer reprint, which I began yesterday.
‘Renick lives in a town full of secrets. Her own secret is tormenting her. She is pregnant by a man who is not her husband. Then there is Dr. Ferrie, who carries the secret of temptation. He is being blackmailed for his affair with a young woman he refers to as “the barracuda.” His wife holds another, much darker secret, one that changes her entire life. And Jim Griffin, the young man who appears so innocently in Karen Evans’s gardening store, is anything but what he seems. Their lives, and many others, all intersect when a conniving lothario leads them to a bricked-up cellar wall that hides the greatest secret of them all.’
In keeping with The Abductor, which I reviewed on Thursday, Hitchens starts her book by throwing out a number of narrative threads, each connected to a specific character, and it does not take long to see how some of these threads might eventually intersect one another. We have a letter writer informing someone about a bank robbery attempt many years ago, and the fact there was a lot of money unaccounted for afterwards, despite the culprits being caught. From hints of future crime, the narrative switches to the idle rich, in particular the wives of rich men, who for all their wealth are far from happy. Marlie Renick is one such woman, whose predicament is highlighted in the above synopsis. Again, like in The Abductor, Hitchens portrays such a character compassionately, neither exonerating her behaviour, nor depicting her in crude negative stereotypes. If the narrative provides any kind of judgement, then I think it more directed towards male hypocrisy. Redemption, however, in some cases is not precluded from the moral universe Hitchens creates, though it can be somewhat complicated.
The way Hitchens introduces and merges her narrative threads is very effective, as whilst this is not a conventional puzzle based mystery, the manner in which she sculpts her plot creates a form of puzzle, with the reader trying to predict how each thread will be resolved and how much of a role each thread will have. The wide range of plot tropes in this book ensure this is a quick paced read, which you will want to complete in one sitting.
Initially the reader will find they can piece together a number of ideas about the story and from this begin to predict where the tale is headed. After all Hitchens appears to be remarkably open about her characters and their problems. Yet I do not see this as a deficit, since Hitchens uses this openness to build up the tension and this text has got me thinking about how much reader anticipation is involved in this process. Nevertheless, this read is not a predictable one and Hitchens carves out an unusual ending which I did not expect, though as usual she provides her readers with a tense finish. Irony, both delightful and painful, can be found in equal measure in the denouement and in contrast to The Abductor, second chances are far more fragile and overall, the ending is more open ended. Having now read the book, I can agree with Curtis Evans who writes the introduction to the reprint, that ‘ultimately the solution to the mystery hinges on criminal quirks of character.’
So another excellent twofer from Stark House Press, which reveals the vitality, originality and creativity of mid century suspense fiction. If you want a second take on this book then keep your eyes peeled on Monday as John who write the blog Pretty Sinister, is going to be taking a look at it.
Source: Review Copy (Stark House Press)