Thursday, July 17, 2014

"One of the Most Gruesome, Gripping Climaxes That Ever Made Hair Stand on End"

By Marie Belloc-Lowndes (1868-1947).
Grosset & Dunlap.
1912. 335 pages.
Online HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Filmed in 1922 (IMDb).
Marie Belloc-Lowndes will be forever known for The Lodger (1913), but she did write a few other books, among them The Chink in the Armour:
[Full review] Two young widows at a gambling resort, a discredited French count, and a married couple whose past is veiled in uncertainty are the dramatis personae of Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes' "The Chink in the Armour."
One of the widows mysteriously disappears, the count falls in love with the other one and she with him, while the married couple rub their hands smilingly at one side, with alert and covetous eyes fixed on the widow's pearl necklace. [SPOILER DELETED] the incident of their attempt makes one of the most gruesome, gripping climaxes that ever made hair stand on end. It's no book for hours when all the house is still. — "Books," McCLURE'S MAGAZINE (June 1912)
[SPOILERS IN REVIEW: Excerpts] The Chink in the Armour, by Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes, is another of those stories of mystery and crime to which she so unexpectedly turned her considerable literary talent a couple of years ago. . . . The trouble with the book is chiefly the fault of too great transparency.  . . .
. . . Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes has a theory, and a rather unfortunate one, that all the characters in a story, regardless of their relative importance, should be drawn with equal care and minuteness. She has a curious and illogical idea that this method represents our experiences in real life, failing to realise that the people we meet are never seen with uniform clearness, but always in a steadily diminishing perspective, until the least important of them melt away into the indistinguishable ranks of the unknown crowd.  . . . Her portrait painting is always admirable; but she will never produce a novel of the first magnitude until she learns to practise a more rigid scheme of proportion. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Mankind in the Mass and Some Recent Novels," THE BOOKMAN (June 1912; go to page 414, left middle)
[Excerpt] . . . Mrs. Belloc-Lowndes is incapable of being disagreeable. Her style has something of the vague lady-like charm of Mrs. De la Pasture's gentle pen; and the thrilling situation towards which the whole invention moves would be more thrilling if it did not have the effect of being told at second-hand—like a child's version of a ghost-story.  . . . — "Current Fiction," THE NATION (June 6, 1912)
[Most of a review] . . . [That] Mrs. Belloc Lowndes [has the] ability to show and underline the character-flaw in her creatures which leads them into peril and, often, to death is largely responsible for the uncannily convincing effect she has on her readers.
"There, but for the grace of God —" one thinks, again and again, as she holds up her hero or heroine and shows, deftly but unwaveringly, the touch of rot on the will, the spot of lax good-nature, the sick ambition, the soft lasciviousness, which, opening the door to evil, makes each victim cooperate in his own danger or downfall. No living writer does this so adroitly, and that her work is unflaggingly popular both here and in England is one of the few reassuring indications of the essential soundness of the reading public today.
The Chink in the Armour appeared first many years ago. Longmans, moved by a petition sent by Ernest Hemingway, Alexander Woollcott, and Edmund Pearson, have just reissued it. It is as moving, fresh, terrifying, and enchanting as ever.
In her mystery stories Mrs. Lowndes seems to go back to an earlier meaning for "mystery" than our superficial use of the word today connotes, and, time and again, writes us an Everyman or an Everywoman under the guise of a thriller.
To give away a word of what happens to the pretty, idle young English widow at the Villa des Muguets would be treason in the ranks of the Lowndesites, but this is, in my opinion, high among her best books. — Dorothea Brande Collins, "Reading at Random," THE AMERICAN REVIEW (April 1937; go to page 107, bottom)
[Excerpt] . . . In her own writing, Marie Belloc Lowndes focused on psychological studies, character development and plots grounded in the ethical dilemmas of ordinary people. She was fascinated by contemporary crime, attended trials, and based several works on famous cases including Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper. The latter influenced The Lodger, about a Ripper-like killer named "The Avenger," first published as a short story in McClure's Magazine in 1911 and then a full-length novel in 1913. The Lodger was adapted as a play and later became the basis for Alfred Hitchock's first major film.  . . . — B. V. Lawson, IN REFERENCE TO MURDER (February 22, 2013)
[Excerpt] . . . Other books fall in the category of pure enjoyment. The Chink in the Armour, I’m glad to say, is one such title. Sure, certain plot elements are predictable. After all, it doesn’t take a degree in literature to figure out that the fortune teller’s predictions will be accurate. Still, Lowndes’ engaging prose is enough to keep the pages turning, and the reader is brought along easily with Sylvia’s alternating delight with her situation and alarm for her friends. It may not be Dickens, but it’s perfect for those days you just want to turn off your brain.  . . . — Lisa Eldred, EVERREADING EBOOK RENTALS (May 15, 2012)
[Excerpts from GOODREADS reviews] . . . Yes, you realise what's going on less than a third into the book, but Lowndes managed to keep me guessing as to the final resolution (which was surprisingly restrained, actually) and unwilling to put my kindle down.  . . . — Truehobbit, GOODREADS (January 13, 2014)
. . . I did find that the story was less creepy than I expected. It was not the full beginning to end inducer of willies that The Lodger was. But it did start off making my hair stand on end a bit, so that was nice.
The book then turned into many things. It was part voyage of self-discovery. It was part liberation of the female lead character. It was part buddy joint. It was part mystery. It was part thriller. It was all well-written and well-done. So, while it wasn’t the creep-fest that I was expecting, it was a book well worth reading.  . . . — Christy Parker, GOODREADS (June 4, 2014)
. . . The lead is so naive and passive I could not connect with her at all. Well written yet disappointing, I had higher expectations. — Heidi Klein, GOOD-READS (October 31, 2013)

Category: Crime fiction

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