The Lightening Conductor

I have so many things to tell you that I scarcely know where to begin. First let me announce that I am in for an adventure–a real flesh and blood adventure into which I plump without premeditation, but an adventure of so delightful a kind that I hope it may continue for many a day. I know you’ll say at once, “That means Woman”;  and you’re right.

I definitely have Melody to thank for introducing me to A.M. and C.N. Williamson. I picked up a few on Bookmooch a while ago, and a sick day seemed the perfect excuse for a musty old book, though I had to look up online which one came first. The Lightning Conductor it was.

the lightning conductorI’m not going to summarize too much because it’s not necessarily a book where things happen (plus, you can read that here). Suffice it to say that young American heiress Molly Randolph, while embarking on a European tour with her Aunt Mary, is smitten with an automobile she sees, and happily agrees when the owner offers to sell her both the car and the chauffeur. The car turns out to be a clunker, and the chauffeur absconds with the money when she sends him to the next town over for new parts. Luckily, she is met on the road by the Honorable John Winston, out for a ride in his own snazzy Napier. He is as smitten with Molly as she was with the car. On the spur of the moment he decides to pass himself off as his own chauffeur, Brown, and offers up his services to the Randolphs. Molly gratefully agrees. She engages him for her entire trip through France and Italy, and finds him pretty much indespensible.

It’s hard not to like a novel with Molly as a main character, or to see why Jack is in love with her. she begins a letter to her father “Dear Universal Provider of Love and Cheques,” and ends another “Your sinner, Molly.” She is irrepressible in her enthusiasm, while at the same time appreciating the beauty and history of the sights they take in. Jack, meanwhile, is having a rougher time “slumming it,” and spends half his nights reading up on the next day’s tourist sights to continue enthralling Molly with his knowledge. Eventually his double life catches up with him in a funny case of mistaken identities, but all ends well in the end and he and Molly can finally admit they’re in love.

It wasn’t until the last third of the book, when they reached Italy, that I started to get tired of the travel descriptions and began skimming for the next plot development, but that may also be because I read most of the book in one day. After a while, reading letters about charming villages and historic chateaus and beautiful views is like looking at one too many of someone else’s vacation photos. (It did remind me of this recent news tidbit.) Overall, though, it was an entertaining read with likeable characters. It was a fascinating look at early cars, with interesting bits about social class distinctions as well. Plus, I always enjoy a good epistolary novel.

I believe the other Williamsons’ book I have, The Princess Passes, also includes Molly and Jack as secondary characters, though I don’t know if I can handle another car trip just yet.

Published in: on December 10, 2012 at 8:07 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Clue

I’ve been going strong with my downloads from Google Books! They are perfect for when I’m on my laptop while being an “adult presence” at the club I help out with. Next up was The Clue, my first of Carolyn Wells’ adult mysteries.

Apparently all of her mysteries feature Fleming Stone, but in this one he doesn’t show up until nearly the end of the book. I first learned about these on Redeeming Qualities.

(Did you know you can capture and embed text or images from Google Books? This is an awesome feature!)

Lovely but haughty Madeleine Van Norman is having a party on the eve of her wedding to Schuyler Carleton, a match that means she will inherit her uncle’s vast fortune instead of her charming cousin Tom. After the party, however, she is found dead in the study, stabbed with a letter opener, in what is either suicide or close to a locked room mystery.

I very much liked the book, both characterizations and the plot. My one complaint was that the beginning of the book actually starts more from Maddie’s perspective, and over the next few chapters jumps around to who it focuses on. I really had no idea who was supposed to be the hero or heroine for the reader to identify with. Was it Maddie or Tom? Maddie’s maid Cecily? Doctor Hill, the “alert-looking young man” who is called when the body is found? (My money was very much on the last when he first made his appearance. Are there any mysteries that feature a doctor or coroner in a main role, besides someone like Dr. Watson?) The viewpoint finally settles on bridesmaid Kitty French and best man Rob Fessendon.

The pair make pleasant investigators, and are well-suited to the task because of their respective friendships with the deceased and the main suspect. Kitty is especially endearing. I identified with her in that she believes a murder occurred, and enjoys the mental puzzle of trying to figure it out, but loathes the idea of discovering that one of their circle is a murderer. The romance that blossoms between Kitty and Rob is also sweet.

Another consequence of the inconclusive “narrator” in the beginning is that the reader has a chance to identify and sympathize with Maddie, who is troubled as of late and is flirting with Tom to make Carleton jealous, though Tom loves her madly and has already proposed twice. I was convinced that Carleton would be the murder victim, and that the investigation would bring Tom and Maddie back together. It does make Maddie’s death more meaningful, however.

I definitely plan on reading more of these. I had looked for physical copies on eBay a while ago, but none were at the condition/price intersection I was looking for; I may need to check again.

Fun tidbit: The majestic Van Norman mansion in New Jersey is said to be more than half a century old. That doesn’t necessarily boggle the imagination, for the houses my parents grew up in would easily fit that description, though it’s less common nowadays. Since this book was written in 1909, however, the mansion featured in this book actually predates the Civil War!

Published in: on March 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Scoundrel

For my next Google Book, I thought back to when I read Miss Watts. Did Ernest Oldmeadow write anything else? Sure enough, I found a few, though The Scoundrel and Virginie turned out to be the same book. On the heels of Rogues and Company, I guess this makes me quite adept at choosing books with dastardly titles.

Lionel Barrison is a quiet young Englishman living a secluded life in the countryside. One day a foreigner named Canuto approaches him, and asks the favor of allowing him to pawn a piece of artwork overnight. It is a wax model, preserved in ice for safekeeping. Barrison tentatively agrees. When Canuto’s servant delivers the work, it turns out to be a real young woman, in a drugged sleep, draped in fabric and holding a silver horn.

The girl wakes up with no knowledge of who or where she is, but is beautiful and kind. Barrison takes a liking to her immediately, and feels very protective. She is French, but fortunately he knows the language. Then he begins getting strange notes from Canuto, saying that the girl’s name is Lethe (the Greek spirit of forgetfulness) and telling stories about her. Barrison and Lethe are sort of falling in love, and then things start to get interesting as they head to France to try to figure things out, and are kidnapped by Canuto.

Despite being written in the early 1900s, The Scoundrel is very medieval in feel, like The Castle of Otranto but without the supernatural (except for the girl frozen in ice). It’s divided into four sections (Ice, Wheat, Fire, and Mist), and has some symbolism in each of these. The action for the most part is very secluded, other than a delightful scene where Barrison buys a whole wardrobe for Lethe at the department store. Even the attitudes and mores of the characters seem to be of a previous age.

In many ways it is similar to Miss Watts, with a sweet romance and a girl who doesn’t really know her past. Here, too, Lethe is devoutly Catholic, one of the few things she remembers from her previous life in France, and through her simple but deep faith Barrison comes to believe as well. It might not be to everyone’s liking, but it’s more of the “saintly virgin” than the “preachy” variety.

And then there’s the surprising conclusion, really the whole final section. I waver between thinking it’s ridiculously romantic and a load of hooey. I like to think it’s the former; if you can get into the mindset of the book, it does kind of make sense, but it wouldn’t fly today. Overall, I really enjoyed it, over-the-top but fun all the same. My only complaint is Lethe herself. The book is told from Barrison’s viewpoint and she comes across and good and beautiful and tender…and very one-dimensional. Having lost her memory doesn’t help.

“I tell you, Virginie belongs to love. Not to attachments. Not to chumships. Not to infatuation or to sentimentality or to desire. She belongs to love–to the love which makes the seas flow and the sun rise and the mountains stand fast. Would you have had me introduce you in a drawing-room, over cups of tea? Lionel Barrison, I chose to fling you together so as to wake up every atom of manhood and romance and chivalry in your nature.”

Final thoughts? I really really liked it for what it was, and would look for more by this author. It’s a book that makes a lot more sense after the ending.

Published in: on January 26, 2012 at 4:04 pm  Leave a Comment  
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