Friday, October 26, 2012

Friday's Forgotten Books, October 26, 2012

UNCLE PAUL by Celia Fremlin
(Review by Deb)

Celia Fremlin's UNCLE PAUL, published in 1959, is a novel of psychological suspense that takes place in a run-down seaside town at the tail end of the 1950s in "Austerity Britain."  The story involves two sisters, Meg and Isabel, and their older half-sister, Mildred.  Many years before, Mildred was briefly married to a charming bigamist (the "Uncle Paul" of the title) who had attempted to murder his first wife and would doubtless have done the same to Mildred if he hadn't been identified and arrested.

It has been fifteen years since Paul went to prison.  Mildred has long been remarried to a wealthy man who provides for her materially but leaves her feeling dissatisfied emotionally.  She fills her life with endless rounds of clothes shopping and hair maintenance (one of Fremlin's wonderful touches is how she describes Mildred's ever-changing wardrobe and hairstyles).  Meg and Isabel (who were just school girls when Paul was arrested) are now, respectively, a single, working woman and a widowed mother of two young children who has just recently remarried.  Isabel and her family have gone to the coast for a holiday and Mildred has joined them, renting a nearby cottage.  But when Mildred discovers that the cottage is the very one where she spent her honeymoon with Paul, she is gripped by a strange fear that Paul is on his way to claim her once more.  Isabel, a dithery woman, distracted by the demands of her family and easily moved to tears, feels overwhelmed by Mildred's concerns and contacts Meg, who reluctantly agrees to join her sisters to try to allay Mildred's fears.

Meg is perceived (by herself and by her siblings) as the sensible, level-headed sister, and she arrives at the shabby little caravan where Isabel and family are staying with every expectation of logically dismantling Mildred's fears about the possibility of Paul's return.  She persuades Mildred take a room at the local down-at-heel hotel in town, offering the stay at the cottage in her sister's place.  Fremlin's descriptions of the cottage (primitive, weed-choked, with no electricity or running water) and Meg's attempt to explore it at twilight with the aid of only a candle begin to ratchet up the tension.  Yes, Meg is a woman of common sense, but isn't there something lurking about outside (or is it inside) that cottage?  Fremlin does an excellent job of showing how even the most sensible among us can easily fall prey to our imaginations when the environment is conducive.

As the story progresses, the action moves between the cottage, the caravan, and the hotel, with the sisters, other family members, and assorted minor characters in various combinations going back and forth between the three locations.  Fremlin's writing of domestic details, conversations between adults and children, and English class-consciousness are unsurpassed.  The writing is economical--not a word is wasted--so read carefully for clues and foreshadowing! 

The suspense continues to build as some truly fightening events occur and both Meg and Isabel begin to question if either of the men in their lives could possibly be Paul.  Isabel knew her new husband, a former Army officer, only briefly before marrying him; and Meg has known her new boyfriend, Freddy, for little more than a month.  Neither man seems to be Paul, but both the women discern vaguely-remembered elements of Paul in them.  (It is, incidently, a sign of how things have changed that Freddy's patronizing attitude, admitted selfishness, and so-called witticisms at the expense of others, notably Meg, could have been considered charming just 50 years ago; now, we would recommend any woman run a mile from such a "Peter Pan" character.)

A good-hearted but talkative neighbor, a snake, a missing hat box, a deep well, a fortune teller--all play their roles in the escalation of fear and terror for the three women.  To say much more about this tightly-plotted, satisfying book would be unfair.  This and Celia Fremlin's other books are well worth seeking out.  You will not be disappointed.

 Ed Gorman is the author of two long running crime fiction series as well as countless anthologies, westerns, and assorted short stories. You can find him here.

 Forgotten Books: The Ever-Running Man by Marcia Muller

Graham Greene spoiled me as far as thriller writers go. His thrillers (or "entertainments" as he chose to call them) always worked on at least three levels, the tension of the story itself and then the characters and the milieu they inhabited.

Cardboard cut-outs of Washington and its people just don't do it for me, whether CIA or FBI, the men too bold (though always with that One Serious Flaw) and the women too beautiful (though always with that One Serious Flaw). Thriller Writing 101.

Marcia Muller In her exciting new novel The Ever-Running Man shows us how to write a thriller that honors the Greene method--tension-filled story, with believeable characters in a carefully detailed milieu.

Private investigator Sharon McCone's husband is one of the owners of RKI, a security company that competes with the best and the brightest in the business. But RKI, home office and affiliates, has been set upon with a domestic terrorist who uses explosive devices with deadly cunning and precision. McCone, barely escaping such an explosion, glimpses the man who means to make things ugly for the company.

RKI hires McCone to see what she can find out. The search is intense, a relentless hunt to discover and stop the killer before he wreaks any more damage.

But in the course of the search McCone is forced to confront certain truths about herself, her husband and his business partners. Muller gives us the world as it is--the world of Starbucks, reading the Sunday paper, the inevitable misunderstandings in marriage--seamlessly enhancing the chilling plot.

An A+ suspense novel.

SLEEP AND HIS BROTHER, Peter Dickinson (Patti Abbott)

This is the fourth of the six Detective James Peeble books, the most famous probably being the first THE GLASS SIDED ANTS' NEST or the second THE OLD ENGLISH PEEP SHOW.. I read this book in 1989 and most of the others too, enjoying Peeble and his world.
This book takes place largely in a hospital for children with a peculiar illness: cathypny. Children with this disorder (fictional surely) barely move, are very chubby, lethargic, but lovable. Peeble comes to the institution on other matters but is fascinated with the children. As are their caretakers seemingly. (I wonder how many mysteries take place in institutions like this. Let's name them sometime). A side effect of the disorder is the children are psychic and herein lies the rub. What will evil forces do to use the kids for their own ends. It is up to Peeble to save them.

Sergio Angelini
Yvette Banek
Joe Barone
Brian Busby 
Bill Crider
Scott Cupp
Martin Edwards
Curt Evans
Jerry House
Randy Johnson
George Kelley
Margot Kinberg 
Rob Kitchin
B.V. Lawson
Evan Lewis
Steve Lewis/Dan Stumpf
Todd Mason
J.F. Norrisl
Richard Pangburn
James Reasoner
Richard Robinson
Ron Scheer
Kerrie Smith
Kevin Tipple/Patrick Ohl


Charles Gramlich said...

Uncle Paul sounds interesting. I've certainly missed it.

neer said...

Hi Patti

Here's my (rather late)entry

Jeffrey Archer's Twelve Red Herrings


J F Norris said...

I was late again, Patti. Can you update the link to my real FFB post for this week:


Nick Jones (Louis XIV, the Sun King) said...

Nothing from me this week I'm afraid; been a bit busy changing my domain name (now and celebrating reaching 100 covers on this page:

Beautiful British Book Jacket Design

Rick Robinson said...

That new Muller sounds excellent, but then they all have been.

Anonymous said...

Rick there are at least a couple of newer Mullers since this one.

I like Dickinson a lot though it has been a long time since I read on. Sleep was an odd one. I also liked his "alternative universe" Britain book King & Joker.

Jeff M

Yvette said...

My post is up and running, Patti. As always, thanks for your patience.

Todd Mason said...

I knew in a distant way that Dickinson wrote fantasy, but I don't think I've read him yet.

Yvette said...

This sounds interesting. I've never heard of it before. But reading your post I was reminded of THE WEB by Jonathan Kellerman which was a departure from Kellerman's usual fare.