I really wanted to like Nor Evil Dreams, by Rosemary Harris (this one, not the actress or current mystery author). I got it for a quarter several years ago at the Brookline Library sale shelves because it was advertised as “A Simon and Schuster Novel of Suspense” and I’ve always seen myself as a repository for old gothic and suspense books. In this case “old” means 1968 rather than historical.
Prudence Brenning and her housemate Victoria are teachers at a private school in London. Though Prue is a new hire, she has heard about the anti-Semitism that happened a year or two before. Now, however, it seems to be flaring up again. Then the local temple burns down, killing the rabbi’s son. To make matters worse, Prue accidentally left her recorder for recitations on in the library common room and taped a conversation implying that the fire was intentional. Unsure of what to do, she takes the tape to history teacher and Holocaust survivor Mark Bronov.
Prue is already half in love with Mark, despite the age difference and his reclusive nature. At her urging, he tells her about his experiences in the concentration camp and his power struggle with a sadistic German officer, who escaped when the Allied forces arrived. It is this officer, Max, who may be the man mentioned in the tape, come back to hunt him down.
Mark insists on a lot of secrecy, but someone still seems to be after Prue; one day, when home sick from school and sleeping, she is almost strangled. Eventually she and Mark are quietly married and she moves in with him, which brings its own set of problems. The suddenness of the affair drives a wedge between Prue and Victoria. Mark has recently brought his orphaned nephew Janni back from abroad, a surly teenager whom Prue believes hangs out with an anti-Semitic crowd. A strange old man is hanging out around the house. Something is wrong that Prue can’t quite put her finger on.
SPOILER ALERT Big twist!
So. Turns out that Mark is actually Max, the Nazi officer who took the identity of one of the prisoners in order to escape without punishment. He and his friends were responsible for the temple fire. He killed the old man, the real Bronov, for fear he would be revealed. But he loves Prue and is changing his ways, really. And Prue, still loving him despite her horror at his murdering ways, is thisclose to running off with him to South America like he asks, so she shoots and kills him. And serves a short prison sentence because she believes herself guilty. And plans to bring up the child she carries alone to try to make amends for both herself and Mark/Max.
WTH? END SPOILER
It’s probably very telling that I had to start another book very soon after finishing this one, that it showed up briefly in my dreams that night, and that I’m shuddering now even writing about it. I’m not sure why it affected me so strongly. I was trying to tell my mom about it, and she said it sounded like it was very well-plotted. It is! It’s just rubbing me the wrong way.
The stubborn part of me is still having trouble putting the book in the sale pile, especially since I still have one other by her (The Double Snare). And I guess I’ll read it at some point. But it concerns amnesia and maybe a slight political subplot, and I think there are lots of other books that I would like to read first.
Has a book ever affected you in a negative way. more than just dislike?