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From the Car Behind

June 10, 2010

From the Car Behind starts off really well, and I almost wish it hadn’t, because I wouldn’t have gotten so frustrated with it if I hadn’t liked the characters so much.

Allan Gerard is an executive at a car company — it’s called Mercury, but this was written before there really was a car company of that name — and he’s the usual romance/adventure hero, circa 1910: handsome, athletic, clean-cut, good-natured, and sensible. Also rich. He’s pretty much perfect, and I’m not quite sure how Eleanor Ingram manages to make him so likable. Or how someone like Jeffery Farnol manages to make essentially the same character profoundly irritating.

Anyway, Gerard also races his company’s cars, and that’s how he meets the Rose family. Corrie is an amateur racer, young and a little naive, and also somehow just a fantastic character. Flavia is slightly older, solemn and beautiful in that way that heroines are, and somehow she manages to be fairly likable too. Their father, Thomas, is a self made millionaire, and therefore, compliant to convention, is sensible and unpretentious. He made his fortune before the kids were born, so they’ve always had as much money as they could spend, but they’re not spoiled; the only thing their father has ever demanded of them is that they “keep straight.”

Their cousin Isabel is another story. She lives with them, and Corrie is in love with her, but it’s clear from the beginning that she’s not worth it. When she meets Gerard, she is determined to make him fall in love with her, but she finds it hard going. My favorite bit of the book — or my favorite bit that doesn’t involve Corrie, anyway — is a bit when she maneuvers Gerard into spending time with her alone and he easily side-steps all her attempts to seduce him. When they return home, Isabel attempts to place the blame for their absence on Gerard, and he can’t resist making sure everyone knows it was her fault. You don’t usually see the noble hero type being vindictive, which is a shame, because it’s so much fun when they are.

The only other major character is Jack Rupert. He’s Gerard’s co-driver/chauffeur/mechanic — they call him a mechanician — and he’s also really fun. He’s the one who doesn’t have to be noble and gets to be vindictive all the time.

And there’s plenty to feel vindictive about.

I’m usually hesitant about revealing too much of the plot, but it was never difficult, here, to figure out what the author wasn’t saying, so:

Gerard is crippled in an accident, and Corrie’s bad temper appears to be the cause. Rupert accuses Corrie of causing the accident, Isabel…basically runs away, Mr. Rose can’t help but show his disappointment in his son, Gerard shields him from accusations and offers him a job, and only Flavia treats him just as she did before. There’s the usual mix-up where Gerard and Flavia are each led to believe that the other isn’t in love with them, and Gerard takes Corrie out West to make a professional race car driver out of him, which of course goes really well.

I always like those bits in books, where a character settles in to do some kind of work and gets to be really good at it, meanwhile earning the respect of those around him. It’s the equivalent of a training montage in a movie. And it’s particularly fun because a) the character in question is Corrie, who I really like, b)he’s learning how to race cars, which is pretty cool, and c)he manages to earn the respect of Jack Rupert, who is also awesome, and who basically thinks Corrie is a murderer.

My frustrations with it were mostly due to it having one of those plots where someone is hiding something and nobly suffering for it, and when one word from the right person — or one of a few right people, even — would clear up the whole issue, it’s hard not to just dismiss everyone as mind-bogglingly stupid.

And really, that’s not an unusual plot. I wouldn’t have liked the parts I liked or disliked the parts I disliked as much as I did if I didn’t, for whatever reason, really like the characters. And I’m not even sure why I do. Eleanor Ingram just pulls the noble suffering plotline off really well, I guess.

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