The Rest Hollow Mystery

May 9, 2017

When reading a certain kind of novel, it can be helpful to know that there aren’t going to be that many people in it, and that some of the characters who have been referenced are either identical with each other, or will turn out to be related. A dark-haired young man is introduced, but not named. Then someone tells the story of a dark-haired young man who’s estranged from his family. You slot them into one pigeonhole in your head, and that reduces the chaos to the point where you can maintain a tenuous grip on what’s going on.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, The Rest Hollow Mystery is 100% the kind of book that calls for that technique. But there’s too much going on, and too many people involved, for it to work. The first batch of chapters left me completely disoriented, and the next batch introduced more characters than I had pigeonholes for. And then Rebecca Newman Porter threw in a truly excellent twist.

So much stuff happens in this book. Or, rather, so much stuff happens in the backstory–too much. You spend the book trying to figure out what happened before it started, and why. Having had a few days to think it over, there’s still stuff that confuses me (mostly when and how characters knew certain things) but I’m mostly satisfied. Anyway, some of my confusion might be my own fault: the book was suspenseful and absorbing and I raced through it. Another time I’ll know to have faith that everything’s going to be explained and hang on for the ride.

But you probably want a synopsis. Roger Kenwick, a young man with a nice nose (“Thin, sensitive, perfectly molded, it betrayed an eager, intense nature never quite at peace with itself.”) regains consciousness after an automobile accident and limps off to find help. He passes out again in the garage of an empty house, and when he wakes up again he’s locked inside it. He eventually escapes, and makes his way to San Francisco, and starts working as a reporter, but the mystery of his imprisonment remains. And why isn’t he getting any response to his letters and telegrams home?

Meanwhile, we start to deal with some heavy stuff: loss, Kenwick’s distrust of others–and himself…these and the clever, unusual twist raise The Rest Hollow Mystery to a higher level, but it’s still fundamentally the kind of coincidence-driven, capped-with-a-romance early 20th century American mystery novel I expected. I like those, mostly, but I don’t think they’re very good. This one might be good.


  1. That synopsis sounds super awesome. Mystery!

  2. I think you’re right that it’s a whole lot better-written than typical samples of this genre – it’s unusually low on plot holes, and while characters definitely take advantage of anything that happens (and sometimes work towards making otherwise-unlikely things happen), there are fewer truly hand-wavy random coincidences than average for the genre. Part of that is due to many of the apparent minor coincidences in the middle of the book actually having been engineered by the adventurer and the psychologist, though (whose actions have more plausibility as they’re both cast as Very Smart) – I’d have to run a tally of actual coincidences on a re-read. :-)

    Usually coincidence-driven mysteries that you’re not given enough information to come anywhere near to solving drive me nuts, and this one didn’t drive me nuts, so something about it was at least more pleasing to my particular palate, whether or not it was strictly “good” in that undefined literary-or-whatever way?

    Thank you for the recommendation!

    • Maybe it has to do with coincidence placement? Coincidences used to solve the mystery tend to be irritating, but most of the coincidences here are used to set it up, so it feels like we’re just watching the fallout from one extremely unlikely chain of events.

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