I suddenly realized there was no reason to worry about periodicity in my Best awards. They have always been the best of five, so why not name it that? This week, the Best Book of five is The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins!
By the Pricking of My Thumbs is one of the books I read for the 1968 Club. It is one of Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence novels.
Tommy and Tuppence are a witty and urbane middle-aged couple who used to be involved in some sort of secret service organization. The novel begins with a visit to Tommy’s Aunt Ada at a retirement home, where Tuppence makes the acquaintance of a Mrs. Lancaster. Mrs. Lancaster asks Tuppence if it was her child and talks about a child hidden behind a fireplace.
After Aunt Ada dies a few weeks later, Tuppence asks after Mrs. Lancaster only to learn that she was abruptly removed from the home. Before she left, she gave Aunt Ada a painting of a house that seems familiar to Tuppence, and she uses the excuse of trying to return the painting to find Mrs. Lancaster. For some reason, she fears that the woman is in danger.
Tommy is away at a conference when Tuppence begins trying to track down Mrs. Lancaster. The address left for her at the retirement home is a hotel, which has no record of her. All inquiries seem to dead end, so Tuppence begins looking for the house.
Although Tommy and Tuppence are vibrant, I did not feel that the other characters showed Christie’s usual talent for adroit characterization. Even though they eventually connected, the two strands that the investigation uncovers make the novel overly complicated. I could have done without the crime syndicate angle and thought it was unnecessary to the story. Besides, the other thread was much more chilling. Still, I enjoyed reading this Tommy and Tuppence novel.
Other Books for the 1968 Club
Aside from the reviews I’ve published this week, here’s a list of other books published in 1968 that I previously reviewed:
- The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
- The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough
- Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
Wealthy Melanie Langdon is recovering from tuberculosis, complicated by recent child birth. When she is finally recovered enough, she is carried to lie on a Victorian chaise-longue that she bought in an antique store. There she falls asleep.
When Melanie awakens, she has returned to Victorian times and is locked in a Victorian body. When she is alarmed at her situation, she is thought to be hysterical.
I did not find the novel terrifying, but perhaps that is my own lack of imagination. I felt I needed to care for the character more before she was put in her dilemma. I understand from the introduction that Laski moved to a remote house to induce in herself a sense of fear, just to write this novel.
This is the final book I read for the R.I.P. challenge. Happy Halloween!
Cousin Kate was one of the novels that I could read for the 1968 Club, during which we read books for the year chosen. Since I love Georgette Heyer, I was delighted to reread it.
Heyer’s Regency romances usually fit into one of two categories—straight romance or romantic suspense—both laced with humor and wit. Cousin Kate fits in the latter category.
Kate Malvern returns with some dismay to the home of her nurse, Sarah Nidd. She has lost her position as governess, because her employer’s brother made an offer of marriage. As she continues looking for a new position, she realizes her lack of success is due to both her lack of credentials and her good looks. She begins to talk wildly of taking a job as an abigail or a seamstress.
Kate’s mother’s family cut her mother off when she married Kate’s ramshackle father. But Kate’s father had a half-sister whom Kate has not met, Lady Broome. Unbeknownst to Kate, Sarah writes to Lady Broome hoping she will offer Kate a home.
She does, but shortly after arriving at the stately Staplewood, Kate realizes it is not a happy home. Sir Timothy is in frail health and lives in his own wing. Nineteen-year-old Torquil is also subject to headaches and extremely volatile in his behavior. He is constantly attended by either his man, Badger, or Dr. Delabole. Lady Broome claims to have work for Kate, but the household runs smoothly, and Kate, used to being active, is soon bored. Lady Broome also showers her with gifts, which makes her uncomfortable.
Sir Timothy’s nephew, Philip, arrives. At first, he seems disdainful of her, but soon he is urging her to leave. She does not see how she can do so without seeming ungrateful and hopes there will be something she can do for Lady Broome. Little does she know that there is.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve appreciated the truly silly humor of some of Heyer’s funnier novels most. So, Cousin Kate is not one of my favorites. That being said, it still features an engaging heroine, witty dialogue, and an interesting plot. It is hard to go wrong with Heyer for a light, cozy read.
I have to admit that my attention span wavered during parts of Bloodline, Conn Iggulden’s third Wars of the Roses novel. I found the emphasis on war in the first half of the book less interesting than the political maneuvering that occupied most of the first two novels. And a good portion of the middle of the novel is just about one battle, which, even though some interesting and important things happened during it, was still a battle, related in too much detail. It was only the last section, after the crowning of Edward IV, that somewhat reignited my interest.
The novel begins with Margaret of Anjou, King Henry VI’s wife, in ascendance, even though Henry is a captive of the Yorkists. She has gathered together a huge army, even bringing in Scots from up north. But she has made a mistake in letting her army loot every town and village they’ve passed on the way to London. For, when she gets to London, the city won’t let her in.
The Yorkists, now led by Richard of Warwick, are gathering their forces to fight her. Meanwhile, Edward of York, the young man whose father was made the heir to the throne by Parliament, is both goofing off and grieving for his father. But Edward finally decides to pull himself together, and when he does, he declares himself king.
Towton is a decisive battle in this segment of the Wars of the Roses. After it, Margaret has to flee, and Edward begins his reign. Ironically, his choice of bride in the rapacious Elizabeth Woodville creates the same problems for him as Margaret of Anjou’s favoring of the Percys did for Henry VI.
Like the other novels, this one shifts its viewpoint from one character to another, but it is mostly from the point of view of Richard of Warwick. I had some sympathy for Richard, but I missed Derry Brewer, who fades out of the novel in the middle after being a major character in the other two books.
All in all, I think this novel could have been much shorter. It flagged in several places. Despite the roving narration, you don’t really get to know any characters well. If there is going to be a fourth book in the series (the wars aren’t over, after all), I think I’ll skip it.
Best Book of Five!
Although the first mystery stories are credited to Edgar Allen Poe, The Moonstone is widely regarded as the first ever mystery novel. It is not a murder mystery (although it includes a murder), but is instead about the mysterious disappearance of a valuable diamond.
Rachel Verinder inherits the moonstone from her uncle on her 19th birthday. Since the diamond was ruthlessly stolen by her uncle in India and is rumored to be cursed, this gift is meant maliciously, because Rachel’s mother wouldn’t have anything to do with him.
Rachel’s cousin Franklin Blake acts as courier of the diamond, and only his decision to travel early, we learn later, may have saved his life while the stone is in his possession. The Verinder’s house is visited twice by three mysterious Indians.
The night of Rachel’s birthday dinner, the moonstone disappears from a cabinet in her sitting room. Rachel’s subsequent behavior is inexplicable. She declines to be interviewed by investigators trying to find the diamond and is uncommonly offended by Franklin’s attempts to help solve the mystery.
A house maid named Rosanne seems to be involved in some way in the crime. But perhaps she is being unfairly judged, as she has a criminal past and is trying to reform.
The Woman in White is certainly Wilkie Collins’s most famous novel, but The Moonstone has always been my favorite. An epistomological novel, it is made vibrant by the distinctive and sometimes amusing voices of the various characters, who are requested to submit their testimonies of events. I especially enjoy the sections written by Gabriel Betteridge, the house steward with a fascination for Robinson Crusoe.
This reread for my Classics Club list has not changed my opinion. The Moonstone has a complicated, but not absurdly so, plot and an exotic element. Although it occasionally contains comments, especially about women and Indians, that are no longer politically correct, they reflect the novel’s time and the attitudes of the narrators.
P. S., I am also reading this for the R.I.P. challenge.
This period’s Best Book is The Wonder by Emma Donaghue!