Friday, September 12, 2014

"The Book Is Not a Detective Story: The Reader from the First Recognizes the Criminal"

By Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes (1868-1947).
Grosset & Dunlap.
1913 [U.K.], 1914 [U.S.]. 306 pages. $1.25
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Filmed in 1927 (IMDb), 1944 (IMDb), 1953 (IMDb), 1965 (IMDb), and 2009 (IMDb).
Marie Adelaide Belloc-Lowndes wrote dozens of books, but only one earned her lasting fame, The Lodgerher take on Jack the Ripper. From three contemporary and one belated reviews:
[Full review] The motive of this story was undoubtedly suggested to Mrs. Lowndes by the series of murders of women which startled London a few years ago and suggested the presence of some insane man of "Jack the Ripper" type.
The story is very carefully worked out, and, although, it it necessarily ghastly, Mrs. Lowndes is too well trained a writer and too experienced an artist to allow the melodramatic element to usurp the dramatic, or to substitute crude horrors for the impression of a terrible tragedy. The story is well worked out [he repeated]. — "The New Books," THE OUTLOOK (March 21, 1914; go to page 650, top left)
[Full review] The Lodger, by Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes, is easily the best of the various mystery stories that this writer has produced. The real merit of it lies in the quietness with which it opens, without a hint of anything gruesome or uncanny; and then little by little we begin to connect certain events and places and to realise the utter grimness of a situation innocently brought about by a respectable middle-aged woman renting a room to a strange lodger. He seemed to have come to her like a special dispensation of Providence.
That very evening she and her husband, who had once been respectable family servants but were now too old to go back to their former work, had been reckoning up just how many shillings stood between them and abject poverty; and then the husband, yielding to that illogical desire which often comes when funds are low, to redeem his self-respect by some reckless expenditure, actually steps out of the house and pays a penny, one of their few, precious pennies, for an evening paper. You see, just at this time all London was excited by a series of atrocious and inexplicable murders, and the good man happened to have a young friend on the Secret Service force who had told him a few inside facts as to what the police were doing.
Now if he had not gone out for that paper, he would not have left the light turned high in the front hall and the Lodger would have passed the house without seeing the sign announcing furnished rooms. And such a wonderful lodger, too; to be sure, he had no luggage excepting one small, mysterious satchel, which he would not leave for an instant out of his hand; but he insisted on paying her double what she asked on condition that she would take no other lodgers than him.
So, happy in the possession of a month's rent in advance, the landlady descended to the dining-room to interrupt her husband in his perusal of the latest details of a fresh murder in Whitechapel.
Well, there is the situation; and the fine art by which, without unnecessary haste, without a word too much or too little, you are led to form a mental connection between the grim headlines of the newspaper and the identity of the Lodger upstairs entitles Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes to cordial recognition as an adept in this type of fiction. It satifies the reader's desire to be kept in a state of sustained suspense; and, what is much rarer, it satisfies him equally when the final disclosures have all been made.
The only weak point in the whole volume is the somewhat melodramatic and unlikely coincidence of having all the parties concerned meet by chance in the Chamber of Horrors at Madame Tussaud's Wax Works. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "The Art of Looking On and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (April 1914go to page 209, bottom right)
[Full review] "In the long history of crime it has very, very seldom happened that a woman has betrayed one who has taken refuge with her." This is the text which Mrs. Lowndes has chosen to illustrate.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunting are highly respectable people, formerly servants, who take lodgers. Their house is empty and they are in pecuniary straits, when the lodger appears, without luggage except for a small handbag, and takes their four rooms. He is a quiet, eccentric gentleman, with a fondness for reading the Bible aloud to himself and a habit of walking out at night.
A series of terrible murders throws London into a panic. Gradually Mrs. Bunting comes to suspect, finally to be almost certain, that the lodger is the murderer. Her one instinct is to protect him. The nerves of wife and husband are kept on edge by the murders recurring every ten days, and by the frequent visits of Joe Chandler, a young detective, who is in love with Daisy Bunting.
The book is not a detective story: the reader from the first recognizes the criminal. Mrs. Lowndes is interested merely in studying the mental contortions of poor Ellen Bunting, suffering under her terrible secret. She writes in the spirit of impartial curiosity, without a trace of sympathy. The book is a clever monograph in the form of fiction, a job hardly worth while, and well done. — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (April 2, 1914)
[Full review of the 1953 movie tie-in] Reissue of classic piece based on Jack the Ripper case (Victorian London). - 40-year-old chiller has lost none of punch; still among the best. - Verdict: Reread it. — Sergeant Cuff, "The Criminal Record," THE SATURDAY REVIEW (May 2, 1953)
- ONTOS paid a previous visit to Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes HERE.

Category: Thriller fiction

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