Sunday, August 24, 2014

"It Is Not So Much the Search As the Seekers Who Are Its Interest"

In this one A. E. W. Mason seems to be trying to straddle the divide that separates mystery from mainstream fiction.

By A. E. W. Mason (1865-1948). 
Hodder & Stoughton.
1933. 320 pages. 7s. 6d.
When Martin Legatt decides to take a holiday on an old Irrawaddy steamer captained by the shadowy Michael Crowther, it's not long before the Captain confides in his young passenger. From his small talk an incredible story emerges involving a silk bag of wonders containing a host of treasures. There is a filigree bracelet, a silver necklet, nadoungs of gold and a jade pendant. But what startles Legatt is the appearance of an incredible jewel the colour of tropical seas.
Legatt becomes horrified when he finds out that the sapphire belongs to Captain Crowther's Burmese wife, Ma Shwe At, and that the Captain has stolen the gem. The challenge is set to return the gemstone to its rightful owner. What ensues is a fraught quest full of twists, turns and high jinx that sends the reader on a roller-coaster ride through the Burmese jungle. — House of Stratus description
The work of Mr. A. E. W. Mason is never derivative. Having said that one can, without risk of misunderstanding, say of his latest story, 'The Sapphire,' that it is like some cordial compounded with skill and betraying a touch of Conrad, a touch of the Wallace who used to write of the jungle, a smack of Dornford Yates and a reminiscence of the early Kipling who wrote 'Letters of Marque.'
The body of the liquor is Mason, but these other flavours are there. The tale concerns a sapphire which was given to Captain Michael Crowther by the Burmese wife he was deserting. For a chapter or two it seems that Crowther is to rival the hero of 'The Moon and Sixpence' in selfishness-with-a-purpose, but he changes.
Having deserted his Burmese wife and child, he returns to find them again. They are alive, but out of his reach. He becomes a Buddhist monk, and the sapphire, with certain other ornaments, adorn a temple, from whence they are stolen by two escaped convicts in monkish masquerade.
It is the search for the stolen stone which is the thread of the story, but it is not so much the search as the seekers who are its interest. The tale is told in the first person by the narrator, Legatt, and carries a conviction that is necessary to justify some of the coincidences whereby the narrator twice and thrice encounters Crowther and is twice concerned with the sapphire, which is more than once stolen.
The pace of the story is free from that crowded hustle which mars many modern mystery and adventure tales, and whether the scene is in Burma or in London, the psychological atmosphere of its main protagonists is maintained with all Mr. Mason's habitual skill.
Michael Crowther is an unusual character, and his transition from the old personality to the new gives him a complexity during the search for the jewel which adds an interest to the tale by no means dependent upon the excitements of the chase. — C. B., "An Original Jewel Robbery," THE BOOKMAN [U.K.] (March 1933)
- Mason was responsible for At the Villa Rose (1910), upon which ONTOS recently touched HERE.

Category: Adventure fiction

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