The Definite Object; A Romance of New York

December 17, 2009

The Definite Object is the second Jeffery Farnol book I’ve read. It’s also the second Jeffery Farnol book I’ve picked hoping to find out that it was an early regency romance in the vein of Georgette Heyer, as I’ve read that they  co-created the genre. I guess I missed the subtitle. But I find myself wondering whether the regencies are any different. Do they also all feature disaffected millionaires going incognito in order to hang out with poor people? Perhaps someday I will find out.

The disaffected millionaire in The Definite Object is Geoffrey Ravenslee, who likes to race cars and box with his chauffeur and (apparently) be cheated by his servants. He realizes that he’s not doing anything with his life, so when he finds young Spike Chesterton attempting to burgle his home, he follows Spike home to Hell’s Kitchen, hoping to find someone to fall in love with. He finds Hermione Chesterton, Spike’s sister, who is of course exceptionally beautiful, as well as virtuous and hardworking.

Spike is mixed up with a bad crowd, the worst member of which, Bud McGinnis, wants to marry Hermione. Bud has already driven one girl to suicide, and spends a lot of time trying to get Spike drunk. Geoffrey beats him up. It all feels like Farnol has raised the level of melodrama much higher than the story requires. There was one thread of the plot that I really liked, though: Soapy, one of Bud’s henchmen, is actively trying to bring about Bud’s downfall (he was in love with Maggie Finlay, the aforementioned suicide), and he’s the only character who seems to be aware of how events are playing out — everyone else is pretty self-involved. He’s not quite a bad guy, since he’s working against Bud, but he’s definitely not a good guy, either, and while I don’t know if I want to call Soapy himself sinister, the scenes in which he plots his revenge definitely are. It’s like the whole storyline was borrowed from a different book– a detective novel from the 1880s, probably — it wouldn’t be out of place in something like The Diamond Coterie.

As for the rest of the book…eh. I don’t know. I could take it or leave it, I guess. With both The Definite Object and The Money Moon, I felt like Farnol’s stories should work better for me than they do. And that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading them. Mostly I did. There’s just something sort of…uninspired, I guess, about his writing. But I’ll probably keep reading his books — until I find one of the regencies, anyway.


  1. I’m catching up on my reading now that I have a streaming head cold and also a brief vacation from teaching. Anyway, have just finished reading Keineth, and L.T. Meade’s A World of Girls (the latter reminded me, in plot, a little of Susan Coolidges “What Katy Did At School” — there’s the Rose Red/Annie Forrest character, and then there’s the Katy being accused by the “fascinating” head mistress Mrs. Florence of mischief, and trying to live it down etc etc…).

    Anyway, I found one of the Farnol regencies (I think) on Project Gutenberg, “The Amateur Gentleman”. There’s also a couple of Georgians — I think “The Broad Highway” is one of these — but the real Regencies which seem to feature or cameo a detective by the improbable name of Jasper Shrig don’t seem to be available. My problem with “The Amateur Gentleman” is that it seems to be in first person, which just… I don’t know, it rubs me oddly.

  2. It pains me to admit it, but I’ve never read What Katy Did, or the books that follow it. A lot of L.T. Meade’s books contain those same sorts of characters, though, so Coolidge may have been a major influence. How did you like Keineth?

    I think there’s something a tiny bit off-putting about Farnol. I”ll take a look at The Amateur Gentleman, but I feel like the more of his stuff I read, the less interested I am in him.

    • I liked Keineth quite a bit. But she was somewhat overshadowed by my next going on to read The Rosegarden Husband and then every single one of the Grace Harlow high school & college books. And also that Lady Peggy O’Malley book, which I loved. (You can see I’ve been catching up on my RQ reading. *grin*) The Coolidges are all available online, if you ever feel the need — they’re quite fun really. My favorite is What Katy Did at School… but there’s something sort of surreally fun about the “Western” ones where the two younger sisters marry cowboys and go and live in Colorado. I don’t know what the weird cowboy/girl’s book intersection thing is all about.

      • I do intend to read the Katy books at some point–but then, I have since I read some articles involving them when I was researching my thesis. Cowboys are a new incentive, though. I did not know there was one with cowboys.

        I’m so glad you read all those things! Isn’t Peggy O’Malley awesome? Are you going to give Marie Conway Oemler a try?

  3. Sorry, I know I seem to hijack a lot of your threads with recommendations, but before you give up on Farnol I think you should read Winds of Change. I found it through HathiTrust and loved it so much I bought a real copy through Abebooks. It’s why I keep struggling through other Farnol novels, in the hope they will suddenly match its brilliancy.

    The story is set in 1682. It’s a first-person account by Ursula Revel, a 23-year-old rich, beautiful English heiress who gets abducted by a mysterious, shabby pirate captain with a secret agenda. Despite Ursula’s attempts to escape, she and her faithful lady’s maid are borne off in the wake of Captain Japhet Bly’s high-seas quest for vengeance, which involves, in no particular order: pirates! “Indians”! (I think they’re native South Americans.) A golden skull! Jewels! Slaves! Flying fish! Buried treasure! War! Polygamy! Forced marriage! Earls! Quicksand! Talking parrots! Attempted rape! A siege! And of course, a happy ending.

    I think the first-person female narrator solved one of the major issues I’ve had with Farnol’s other novels: the flat female characters. They occasionally do or say something interesting, but you rarely get to see how they tick. Ursula does have to get dragged along on the adventure, but once she’s in it she enjoys herself. Definitely read Winds of Change before you write Farnol off.

    • I like your recommedations — I’m much too indecisive left to myself. And also I know I’m due to give Farnol another try and it’s nice to have a specific book to go to — in the past, I’ve just picked a title at random.

      Also, pirates!

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