Vicky VanJune 18, 2011
I’ve been pretty busy lately — I’m sort of moving tomorrow, for one thing — but today is the 149th anniversary of Carolyn Wells’ birth, and I figured I should a) do something Carolyn Wells-related today, and b) think up something really excitingly Carolyn Wells-related for next year’s 150th.
So. Vicky Van. My usual reaction to Carolyn Wells’ mystery novels is not entirely respectful, to say the least. I mock because I love. But I feel no need to mock Vicky Van.
Our narrator is Chester Calhoun, one of those lawyers who so frequently pop up as narrators in mystery novels, using their clientele as an excuse to investigate a mystery, and usually falling in love along the way. Chester lives with his sister and his aunt in a house on the upper east side, and across the street lives Victoria Van Allen, known to her friends as Vicky Van.
Vicky is a bit of an enigma. She lives in a beautifully and artistically furnished house with her maid, Julie, and no one really knows where she comes from. She’s vivacious and exciting and a little bit Bohemian, but entirely respectable. Basically, Chester won’t hear anything said against her, but he also wouldn’t bring his younger sister to her house. And, in an interesting twist, he’s not in love with her. But he does consider himself her friend, so he’s indignant on her behalf when an entitled millionaire treats her like she’s less of a lady than she is. And when the entitled millionaire is found stabbed to death, Chester is convinced that Vicky didn’t do it, even though she’s disappeared. And then they discover that the millionaire was not merely a random millionaire, but a well-known millionaire who happens to live just around the corner.
This is one of those books where nothing in particular is great, but everything comes together really well. Chester uses the excuse of helping out the deceased’s family to horn in on the investigation, but he’s a lot less irritating than most characters who do that sort of thing — especially when you know from The Gold Bag what else Wells is capable of doing in a similar situation. And Well’s detective Fleming Stone shows up with his assistant Fibsy, but not until pretty close to the end, so you don’t have time to get tired of him. And I like Fibsy. He’s one of the rare sidekicks who is actually allowed to figure out the solution to the mystery sometimes. And the solution to this particular mystery is excellent. It’s all classic Carolyn Wells, down to the young woman who is freed from some kind of oppression by the murder, but none of the other Wells mysteries I’ve read have been anywhere near this much fun.