Friday, July 18, 2014

"The Author Has Tried to Write Two Kinds of Story at Once, a Mystery Story and an Analytical Study of Character"

By Mrs. Romilly Fedden [Katharine Waldo Douglas, 1870-1939].
Houghton Mifflin.
1914. 336 pages. $1.35
No e-versions seem to be available.

One critic justifiably complains that whatever mystery this book has at the start is nearly forgotten by the author until the end; the rest is a long, if interesting, study of developing character. Many (perhaps too many) modern mystery authors such as P. D. James seem to have taken their cue from Mrs. Fedden's solo shot at a mystery novel. Sadly, our author died in a trainwreck in Spain along with her artist husband.
[SPOILERS IN REVIEW: Excerpts] Shifting Sands, by Mrs. Romilly Fedden, has apparently abundant elements for success, and yet the reader feels vaguely that it somehow fails to get its effects.
The explanation lies in the fact that the author has tried to write two kinds of story at once, a mystery story and an analytical study of character.
Now, a mystery story depends for its interest upon having the problem to be solved placed clearly before us at the start and kept before us in the central focus continuously until its final solution.
A study of character, on the contrary, demands full knowledge from the start of the facts which constitute the mystery; otherwise we are not enlightened but merely puzzled by the actions of a character to the motives of which we lack the essential key.  . . . The climax fails in its purpose for lack of adequate preparation. — Frederic Taber Cooper, "Some Novels of the Month," THE BOOKMAN (January 1915; go to page 555, bottom right)
[Full reviews] Lurking in the background of this story is a tragedy which, however, the reader is little conscious of, and which, until the very denouement, is not connected with a shadow that seems to lurk about the hero. What the reader is more interested in is an orphaned child whom this hero, a rugged, hardworking physician, takes to his home as his ward. Sunny, imaginative Jean abstracts from the atmosphere of her doctor guardian's busy life certain elements which the alchemy of her temperament transforms into "something rich and strange." Fussy, practical Cousin Roxina comes under the spell of her magic; no less so, Dr. John himself. Her development thru her teens, under the tuition of her guardian, ending in [SPOILER], a possibility entirely unreckoned with, is interestingly sketched. — BOOK REVIEW DIGEST
The biography of John Erskine is a fine character study. In another way the character of Jean Dimmock is quite as interesting and quite as sympathetically portrayed as Erskine's. The author's manner of handling the story is firm and marked with a keen understanding of human nature. BOSTON TRAN-SCRIPT (November 25, 1914)
The false psychology of the hero's character will spoil the book for some readers. — WISCONSIN LIBRARY BULLETIN (December 1914)

Category: Mystery (barely) fiction

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