Day 1255: The Blunderer

Women Crime Writers coverPatricia Highsmith can be very dark, and The Blunderer is about the darkest of her works that I have read. It appears in the 1950’s volume of my Women Crime Writers set.

The novel begins with a murder that at first seems to have little to do with the main action. After establishing an alibi for himself by making sure people at the movies see him, Mr. Kimmel follows his wife’s bus out of town until it stops for a break. Then he calls her out of the way to talk to him and strangles her.

Walter Stackhouse notices an article about the murder and figures out that Kimmel could have murdered his wife. He places a clipping about the murder in a scrapbook where he keeps notes and articles about different personality types, and he even goes so far as to visit Kimmel’s bookstore to take a look at him.

Walter is unhappily married to Clara, who criticizes him constantly and tries to drive away his friends. Lately, she’s been accusing him of having an affair with Ellie, a woman he has only met twice socially. Walter isn’t thinking of murder, however, but of divorce. When he asks Clara for a divorce, she attempts suicide.

The Stackhouses give their marriage another try, but soon Clara is behaving the same way. Walter does begin an affair with Ellie and makes plans to get a divorce in Reno.

Cover for The BlundererYou guessed it, of course. Clara gets on a bus to take care of her mother’s affairs after her death. Walter stupidly follows the bus to do he knows not what but cannot find her at the bus stop and assumes she has gotten off. Later, her body is found dead at the bottom of a cliff. Detective Corby sees the similarities to the Kimmel case and decides Walter has murdered his wife.

The suspense derives from Walter’s dilemma as he does just about everything wrong, raising suspicion in everyone he knows. Then Corby decides he can solve both cases by playing Stackhouse and Kimmel off one another.

This novel is certainly suspenseful. It may have been a little dark, though, even for me.

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Day 1244: The Blank Wall

Cover for Women Crime WritersThe Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is the last novel from the 1940’s in my first volume of the Women Crime Writers collection. (I skipped Dorothy Hughes’s In a Lonely Place as I have reviewed it before.) I must say that all of them have been excellent.

Lucia Holley is an ordinary upper-middle-class housewife trying to cope while her husband is away at the war. She has been having difficulty with her seventeen-year-old daughter, Bee. Recently, she found out that Bee was seeing an unsavory character, Ted Darby, who is 36. When she visited him to ask him not to see her daughter anymore, he refused. Bee has found out and is furious.

That night, Lucia spots someone in their boathouse and catches Bee on the way out to see Ted. She refuses to let Bee out, and her old father, Mr. Harper, overhears. Later he tells Lucia that he went out to tell Darby to leave and pushed him into the water.

Early the next morning, Lucia goes out for a swim and finds Darby dead in the bottom of the boat. He has fallen on the anchor, which has pierced his chest. Determined to protect her father and her daughter’s reputation, Lucia disposes of the body. But horrible events are just getting started.

At first, I was a bit impatient that Lucia’s fear for her daughter’s reputation has her cover up what is, after all, an accident. However, this story pulled me along, so that soon I was completely immersed in Lucia’s problems. I just felt that it wouldn’t have hurt Lucia’s spoiled daughter to find out the troubles her little rebellion caused.

Overall, I am so far impressed by the quality of the novels in this collection. They are not as well known as contemporary thrillers and crime writers written by men, but they are better than many of them.

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Day 1050: Golden Age

Cover for Golden AgeGolden Age is the last book in Jane Smiley’s Last Hundred Years trilogy. It begins in 1987 and finishes a couple of years into a slightly dystopian future.

The Langdon family tree has expanded since the first book. Now, the original Langdon children are in their 60’s and 70’s. One has died of cancer, and by the end of the novel, only one of them is still living.

By necessity, this novel concentrates more on some of the Langdon descendants than others. Frank and Andy’s sons Richard and Michael are continuing to clash. Richard forges a political career by being a compromiser, while Michael makes it big on Wall Street and subsequently misappropriates funds from several member of his family. Joe’s son Jesse continues to struggle with the farm while both of his sons go to war. Claire finally finds happiness with Carl. Felicity becomes an environmental activist, while Janet spends most of her time with horses. Henry and Andy are also important characters.

Like the other novels, Golden Age covers most of the important events in its time period, the past 30 years—recessions, wars, 9/11, climate change, and fiscal crimes. Guthrie goes to Iraq. A family member is killed on 9/11. Michael is a major criminal on Wall Street.

Although I still felt some distance from the characters because there were so many and because the narration skips around from one to another so often, I couldn’t help but be caught up by the sheer volume and breadth of the trilogy. I wasn’t sure what I thought about the projection into the future of a country largely devoid of rain and mounting in chaos. Smiley, of course, couldn’t predict our current peculiar election results, which shows up the problems with this type of predictive writing in a largely realistic novel. Some aspects of her last chapters remind me a bit of Margaret Atwood’s Maddaddam series.

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