By Louis Joseph Vance.
Little, Brown & Co.
1915. 279 pages. $1.25
Available on Kindle.
The advent of "Joan Thursday" seemed to indicate the entrance of Mr. Vance into a more serious field than that to which he had devoted himself. With "Sheep's Clothing," however, he reverts to his early days and presents a tale of mystery, pure and simple, perhaps a trifle too simple. To give the plot would be to give the whole story, but there are a beautiful heroine and a pearl-and-diamond necklace, a slangy hero, and an unusually despicable villain who meets his death through the King of Spades.
Theft, smuggling, murder, and love supply the motive power for the action, which is rapid, as it always is in Mr. Vance's work. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (February 18, 1915)
Another current novel in which the plot turns upon a theft of jewels in mid-ocean, and later reveals a daring attempt at smuggling is Sheep's Clothing, by Louis Joseph Vance. Among the passengers upon a certain steamer leaving Liverpool for New York is a young girl, whose personal charm and appealing manner, coupled with an obvious nervousness suggestive of one who feared pursuit, at once attract the attention of several of her fellow-voyagers.
The ample, indomitable, yet kind-hearted dowager who shares the young woman's stateroom and who possesses the erratic name of Mrs. Beggarstaff, is the first to make several interesting discoveries: first, that the girl has in her possession a rare piece of antique jewelry which unmistakably belonged in a certain famous collection, the theft of which five years earlier had completely baffled the police; secondly, that the girl's real name was not Lucy Carteret, as appeared on the passenger list, but Lydia Craven, daughter of Tad Craven, a familiar figure in New York's exclusive social circles, who had always passed himself off as a bachelor.
Lydia admits that she has run away from the guardianship of the chaperon with whom her father has left her for years in London. The immediate reasons for her flight are to escape being forced into a marriage that is repellent to her, and to find the father whom she has not seen for five years and who has ceased to answer her letters.
This initial situation is rich in possibilities, but is quite dwarfed by the more startling discovery that the neglectful father is actually on board the same steamer—a fact revealed when Lydia stumbles upon him at the very moment when he is pressing his lips to those of the young, pretty and fabulously rich widow, Mrs. Merrilees, who is naturally not pleased to find that her ardent suitor is a man fully ten years older than he had represented himself and encumbered with a grown-up daughter.
But the story of Mrs. Merrilees's anger, hesitation, and forgiveness is a side issue, as is also the romance which springs up between Lydia and a fellow-passenger, Peter Traft; for the full limelight of the narrative soon centres on a wonderful string of pearls that Mrs. Merrilees is known to have purchased in Paris, and for which the customs officials will be on the watch, Mrs. Merrilees having in past years earned an unpleasant reputation for attempted evasion of duties. How Lydia's father tells her that he is in secret diplomatic service and persuades her to take charge of a box supposed to contain government papers of great importance; how Mrs. Merrilees does declare her pearls and show the receipted bills, and how the official appraiser examines the pearls and finds them to be paste; how Lydia gradually comes to mistrust her father and eventually prevents the success of a flagrant crime, simply because her own natural straightforwardness makes it impossible for her to fall into certain cleverly laid traps, are all expounded by Mr. Vance quite in accordance with the traditions of the school of mystery story which he successfully represents.
But the reader with a habit of picking things rather carefully to pieces, wonders how it is possible for a number of people so well equipped with brains as the characters of this story should be so phenomenally dense every now and then, when the structure of the plot requires them not to discover certain facts until just a moment too late to prevent them. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Some Novels of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (March 1915; scroll to page 86)Resource:
- A previous ONTOS article featuring another Vance novel.
Category: Detective fiction