I let the end of October whoosh right by without comment, and with it, the end of RIP VI. Before we get too much further down the road, I want to take a minute to review. It was a great season for the macabre and murderous; I easily accomplished Challenge the First, reading and reviewing four books, all of which I enjoyed. I also, as usual, got great leads on new authors to check out from the reviews posted by others. I actually read a few more books that would have qualified for the challenge, but was not inspired to post full reviews for them. Briefly, they were:
The Man in the Queue, Josephine Tey–A man is stabbed to death waiting in line to attend the final night of a long-running theatrical performance. Inspector Alan Grant has almost nothing to go on, except the odd religious artifact used to commit the murder and a few eye witnesses, none of whom admit to seeing much of anything. Gray does perform a few brilliant deductions, but the leads he turns up take him nowhere, and the case is only solved when the murderer’s guilty conscience prompts a confession to save an innocent person from the noose. It felt like a cop-out, and really disappointed me, given how much I’d enjoyed my previous encounter with Tey (The Daughter of Time).
The Lady of the Shroud, Bram Stoker– A bold, adventurous young Englishman inherits a stupendous fortune from his uncle, on the condition that he reside for a year in the uncle’s seaside castle in a half-wild Balkan state. Shortly after taking up residence, young Rupert is visited by a local legend, the Lady of the Shroud. This pallidly lovely creature of flashing eyes and nocturnal habits is occasionally spotted tooling around the shore in her seagoing coffin, frightening sailors and fascinating Rupert. He believes that she is a legendary creature, a vampire–he even tracks her to her tomb and discovers her lying dead in her stone vault. But all is not as it seems with the enchanting lady, and Rupert is about to follow his heart into a very different adventure than he’s expecting. This one was a surprise–deft and droll in places, delightfully melodramatic in others. It gave me hope that Dracula, whenever I get to it, will be a more pleasant read than I’ve been led to expect. It is an adventure story–a proper rip-snorter, at that–dolled up in Gothic trappings. Rupert is an impossibly wonderful man, paired with an impossibly wonderful heroine–they were pretty delightful to watch, even if they did tip over into flat-out silliness now and then.
The Moonstone, Wilkie Colins–A legendary diamond called The Moonstone, rumored to have been looted from a temple in India, is willed by a long-estranged uncle to Rachel Verinder on her 18th birthday. The gem is said to be cursed, and the people around Rachel doubt the old man’s intentions in leaving it to her: did he mean to make peace with his family, or make trouble for them? Whatever his intent, it’s trouble they get: the gem is stolen the very night of the party, and suspicions fall on all in the house. The investigation will lead to a suicide, an estrangement of lovers, and other misfortunes. The greatest detective in the country will fail to solve the case, though he will turn up quite a lot of other secrets along the way. A year on, a Verinder cousin who wishes to regain Rachel’s love (mysteriously lost along with the gem, almost as if she blames him for its disappearance!) reopens the case and at last solves the mystery of The Moonstone.
Here’s the thing about this one: this is one of those mysteries where people who hold a piece of the puzzle refuse to tell what they know–either to protect another person’s reputation, or because honor compels them to remain silent, or because they’ve been duped into co-conspiring, or because they coincidentally fell into a coma right after the party and have only just now woken up to spill the beans. I’m pretty unforgiving of plots that turn on this sort of cheap, clichéd device–even if they’re the very first book to use it. As The Moonstone is generally considered the first detective novel in English, perhaps Collins did originate it. But even if it was a shiny new cliché (at time of writing) it still rankles. On the plus side, I found Collins a deft hand at caricature–in the section where Miss Clack narrates, I think I marked funny passages on nearly half the pages. Although I liked Betteredge, the first narrator, well enough, I was very close to giving up on the story; Miss Clack arrived just in time to keep me reading. So, while Collins did not turn out to be this year’s Shirley Jackson, I enjoyed his writing enough to give The Woman in White a try–maybe for RIP VII?