At one-thirty

February 1, 2011

Damon Gaunt reads like a series detective, but isn’t one. As far as I know, he only appeared in one book: At One-Thirty, by Isabel Ostrander. I read it after Mark mentioned it in a comment on my Max Carrados post.

Like Max Carrados, Gaunt is a blind detective. Like Carrados, he makes deductions that astonish everyone, and people who aren’t told that he’s blind often don’t realize it. But Gaunt is a little bit more human and likable, largely because he knows that, while his heightened other senses and his analytical mind give him advantages over other people, that doesn’t mean his lack of sight isn’t a disadvantage.

Gaunt is a professional detective, and at the beginning of At One-Thirty he is retained by Yates Appleton to investigate the murder of Yates’ brother Garrett. The Appletons aren’t particularly appealing: Garret was an alcoholic who abused his wife, Yates is a weak-minded cocaine addict, and their mother is…difficult, to say the least. Natalie Appleton, Garret’s widow, and her sister Barbara Ellerslie are much more sympathetic, and Gaunt falls in love with Barbara pretty promptly. Mostly it’s her voice, I guess, which is described as vibrant, violin-like, poignant, and throbbing, among other things. Also she smells nice.

Having your detective fall in love is always tricky, and, while I can’t really talk about how Ostrander deals with it — not without giving away the ending, anyway — I don’t altogether approve. On the other hand, I lost interest in most of the characters by the time I was halfway through the book, so I wasn’t really bothered when they were being irritating — which they very often were.

But there were things I liked, too. Like the way Gaunt ran his fingers over Yates’ card and said to himself, “No, this printing is too fancy for me to read with my fingers. I’ll have to ask someone else to read it for me.” Max Carrados would never have had to think anything like that in a million years. And how Gaunt kept forgetting to eat lunch, and how he always made sure that his chauffeur got fed as well. And I really enjoyed the subplot where the butler turns out to know lots of important things, only he was sort of saving them for blackmail material. I love how, in books, no one ever really intends to blackmail anyone. When confronted, they’re always like, “Blackmail? How dare you accuse me of such a thing? I just figured I wouldn’t tell anyone about this thing, and this one guy might give me some money because of it. I would never blackmail anyone.”

The investigation into Garret’s death was pretty interesting, too. I mean, a lot of it was Damon Gaunt trying to convince people that, yes, he really did know that they were hiding something, and why didn’t they just tell him about it? But other stuff happened too, some of it very tangential, and, perhaps coincidentally, very entertaining. The only character I liked, Rupert Hitchcock, came from a subplot that was almost entirely irrelevant to the investigation, and, although I have no idea why Ostrander included it, unless it was to confuse the reader, I’m glad she did. I sort of want to hear the story of Mr. Hitchcock’s journey to South America, just…maybe written by someone else. I mean, Ostrander is fine, but she’s not terribly good at inspiring affection for her characters.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: