The Guests of Hercules

April 26, 2017

I love Alice Williamson, but I don’t trust her at all, so when she was like, “Here, check out Mary Grant. She was brought up in a convent in Scotland and she has ‘wild blood.’ I’m going to take her to Monte Carlo!” I was worried.

A.M. and C.N. Williamson, collectively (and probably also individually), loved Monte Carlo, but I normally avoid their stories set there because reading about gambling makes me extremely anxious. I was excited when The Guests of Hercules opened with a wealthy young girl going out into the world after deciding at the last moment not to be a nun–but only for about a minute, because Alice Williamson isn’t, say, Margaret Widdemer, and when her heroines go out into the world alone, it isn’t always kind to them. Also I’ve, you know, read books before, so from the first mention of Monte Carlo, my brain was shouting, “No, stop, she’s going to get addicted to gambling and lose all her money.” Then a little later I began to wonder whether everything was leading up to an attempted murder. I’m actually not sure how I managed to get through the book.

The things I feared happen roughly as I expected them to happen (I have read books before) but Alice Williamson makes it alright.

When I say I love Alice Williamson, I really mean it, but not in a way where I think she’s, like, a great novelist or something. She’s just…she knows what she’s doing, you know? Also I have limited patience for great novelists.

Anyway, no one wants to hear about how I increasingly think of Alice Muriel Williamson as a person with whom I’m acquainted, so: Mary Grant. Monte Carlo. She’s been warned against it because of the aforementioned “wild blood,” but she’s also heard it’s super pretty, so she heads for Florence, instead–but on a train that passes through the Riviera. At Paris, she meets the titled but impoverished Dauntreys, who are taking some paying guests to Monte Carlo to introduce them to Society types. At Marseilles, she exchanges a glance of mutual interest with a hot Italian guy. At Monte Carlo, she yields to an impulse and gets off the train.

Her addiction to gambling is a foregone conclusion. So is her romance with the Italian guy, to whom Alice has given every Italian name she could think of (but you can call him Vanno). The rest, I’ll tell the way my pal Alice Williamson told me:

  • One of Mary’s best friends at school has a name almost identical to hers and ran away from the convent with a married man
  • “Life seemed over for him. But time remained, and must be killed, unless he preferred to kill himself.”
  • Vanno’s brother got married recently to a woman who no one has met
  • People steer clear of the Dauntreys’ rented villa because the couple who used to own it murdered a guest for her jewelry

You can work out most of the plot from that.

Aside from feeling extremely anxious the entire time I was reading it, I think I liked The Guests of Hercules. Mary and Vanno are mostly the nice kind of boring. (Mary dresses like a demimondaine because she’s lived in a convent her entire life and doesn’t know any better. Vanno has invented a new kind of parachute.) The other characters are all at least moderately interesting. Once you basically know what’s going to happen, it’s sort of fun to watch it all play out. And it really does feel like the Williamsons know the Riviera, and like after reading this book you will, too.

Also I would like to mention that I love Molly Maxwell and John Hannaford.



  1. This sounds fun! I think I took that train from Paris to Florence

    • Nice. Was the scenery as beautiful as the Williamsons make it sound?

  2. Well, you had me kind of scared here as well. I had just started reading the book(my second of theirs) and I’m not the sort of man that drops a book.
    I read part way in to you review and thought, fearfully, “Oh no! I this kind of book that makes a fetish realism and proves that it is realistic by ruining all good people and driving us, readers and characters alike, into despair? ” or is that too long of a question?
    I’m now within one chapter or so of the end and i think i can relax a little. I liked the visit to to Monte and roquebrun. I’m relieved to find that goodness survived the casino intact and I,too, really like Hannaford and molly(peter), Dick, too. They seemed like products of the male side of the team, don’t you think?

    • One thing about the Williamsons is that they might give you some anxious moments, but they’ll never really let the worst happen. In novels, that is. Short stories are riskier.

      The other thing about the Williamsons is that very little comes from “the male side of the team.” Anything about cars, and probably a bunch of the travelogue stuff: Charlie. Plot and characters: Alice.

      • I liked The Princess Passes more that this book.
        I thought the husband was an editor or some such before they met.
        mind is a bit vague at the moment, thinking about other things…
        I am particularly fond of Harold MacGrath.
        and ofcourse early wodehouse

        • He was a motoring journalist. He did all the bits with cars.

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