January 30, 2020

Do you ever read a book and wish the author just cared a little bit more about the things you cared about? Rope, by Holworthy Hall, sounded perfect for me, and it could have been, with a slightly different emphasis. As it is, it’s pretty great.

Henry Devereaux is the nice but spoiled nephew of John Starkweather, a rich businessman, and his sister Mirabelle, a religious reformer. John is fond of Henry and Mirabelle is the opposite, but they both disapprove of him. For Mirabelle, it’s his clubs and games and friends and general lack of piety. For John, it’s that Henry has never had to work and apparently intends to live on his uncle’s dime forever.

John has plans to put Henry to work, but they’re altered a little when Henry comes home having secretly married Anna Barkley. Anna’s great, and she and Henry have always been a foregone conclusion, but she doesn’t have money of her own, and it hasn’t occurred to Henry that it’s not cool to marry a woman without any idea how you’re going to support her. So John comes up with a plan: he’ll send Henry and Anna on a nice long honeymoon, but when they come back, he’s going to put Henry to work for a year.

When Henry comes home, he’s appalled to find that the job his uncle has saddled him with is the management of a movie theater. He thinks it’s vulgar, and that it will be impossible to make the profit that Uncle John’s challenge requires, and he almost decides he can’t take it on. But Anna is game, and once his sporting instincts kick in, so is Henry.

The challenge isn’t intended to be too difficult, but then the blue laws that Aunt Mirabelle is pushing deprive Henry of a lot of the income he counted on–and she stands to gain if he loses the challenge. Anna and Henry–but mostly Anna–come up with some clever ideas to make up for their losses, but even then they’re not sure they can win.

I loved the schemes for increasing the theater’s profits, and Henry’s interactions with other businessmen, and the fact that Anna is better than him at just about everything. I was less interested in the enemies working against them, and I wish those two halves of the plot had been balanced differently. I wanted more of the day to day running of the theater and the household–beyond throwaway remarks about an emergency replacement for the doorman, and Anna’s distaste for her domestic tasks.

And that’s the other thing. The Devereauxs are so fastidious. Hall didn’t have to make them secretly like the blue laws, or hate the work that they’re doing. Henry does well, and he obsesses over his work, but he doesn’t enjoy it. Anna insists on doing all the cooking and cleaning herself to save money, but she never stops being squeamish about washing dishes and touching raw meat. I can sympathize a little re: the dishes, but I sort of feel like if meat grosses you out that much you shouldn’t be eating it.

But that’s my only big complaint. There’s enough business specifics and legal machinations to keep me happy, and the villains get their comeuppance in a very satisfying way. The plot is clever, the supporting cast is fun, and the pace felt just right–tense enough to keep me engaged, but not so tense I felt like I had to race through it. Not a new favorite or anything, but a satisfying and enjoyable read.




  1. Oooh. This does sound like fun. (but yes, I pretty much always want more details of the work!)

    I’m curious about the housekeeping fastidiousness! And yes, at a certain point, if you hate touching raw meat that much, either 1. use tongs or 2. eat eggs until you’re sick enough of them that you’re okay with touching meat (although the difficulty there might be in what the husband wants to eat). I do not know why beans as a main course were unknown to the middle classes outside Boston Saturdays. This remains a mystery to me…

    • It really reads like she was just brought up to better things than cooking and cleaning, and while she’s great at housekeeping when she has to do it, someone of her class shouldn’t have to. It’s an attitude that feels out of place in a book about the value of work.

  2. Small typo alert – I think you meant washing rather than watching.

    Because I can watch the dishes all day long without getting grossed out. ; )

    Sounds like my kind of book – thanks for finding it.

    • Thanks! Fixed.

  3. (and I did thoroughly enjoy it! But yes, I also wanted more details. It could easily have been half again as long, if the space was filled with the practical details of running a theater and running a flat on not-much per month. But still, a highly entertaining read. :-) )

  4. BTW, I found another book you might like.


    Peter, a Parasite by Effie Adelaide Rowlands.


    I haven’t read any others by her – which is surprising given that she’s written over 200, but this one was amusing. I also think that she does a set up for a follow up novel but I can’t figure out what that would be called.

    Fair warning – I tried a couple of others from the american women’s dime novel project but they involved both heroines AND heroes who fainted under pressure so I ditched.

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