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Cordelia the Magnificent

February 6, 2020

Do you love blackmail? If you do, I have just the story for you. But I don’t, particularly.

It’s Cordelia the Magnificent, by Leroy Scott. Cordelia Marlowe is beautiful, socially successful, and from a good family. She hasn’t got much money, but she scrapes by, mostly by making long visits to her friends. Then her mother’s income dries up, and she’s forced to find a job.

She starts by placing an advertisement in the paper–one that, from her point of view, lists her skills and asks what kind of work she’s fitted for. From other points of view, it sounds like she’s looking for a sugar daddy. Books from the 20s and 30s have this odd tone mismatch sometimes–Girl Alone is an example that comes to mind–where the plot and style lead you to expect Good Clean Fun, but the details are suprisingly racy. Cordelia thinks she’s in the book I was expecting when I picked this up, but she and I were surprised and a little disheartened by the divorces*, corruption, and boozing fifteen-year-old.

Anyway, Cordelia only realizes her mistake when letters come pouring in in answer to her ad, all of them from men interested in paying her for companionship.

Well, all but one. She also receives a letter from the law firm of Franklin & Kedmore, asking her to call. There she meets Mr. Franklin, a young, personable lawyer who tells her he’ll pay her an amount equal to her family’s lost income if she’ll assist him in investigations for his clients. Her position in society will make her incredibly useful to him, he tells her. And that’s true, but not for the reason she thinks. What Franklin actually wants is for Cordelia to pass on gossip that he can use to ferret out secrets and blackmail members of society.

Cordelia’s first task is to figure out what’s eating her friend Gladys Norwood. Franklin tells her he’s been hired by the trustees of Gladys’ parents’ estate, so Cordelia thinks she’s doing something helpful. And she does figure out the secret, remarkably quickly. It has to do with the French war orphan Gladys and her stepsister have adopted, and with their butler, the mysterious Mitchell.

I don’t want to explain the plot. It’s very complicated. Almost all the characters are either blackmailing or being blackmailed, and it’s exhausting. Cordelia’s self-confidence leads her into trouble, and she eventually has to reckon with that, but she’s also the victim of deliberate villainy, so I didn’t feel inclined to blame her too much. Unfortunately, I didn’t like her a whole lot either, and it’s hard to watch an only moderately sympathetic character make a lot of choices you know will turn out badly.

Cordelia improves after her inevitable fall from grace, and so does the book. There are a lot of threads to tie up, and none of the mysteries that need to be solved are quite as mysterious as the author thinks they are, but all the blackmailing and backstabbing was finally over, and the end left me feeling kinder than the beginning.

*Divorces aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but in books like this they’re always kind of sordid.

One comment

  1. Yes, I do not love blackmail. But I love your reviews! :-)

    Thank you for reading this one so that I don’t have to; although it sounds like the end is somewhat better than the rest of the book, it also does not sound like it makes all the sordidness worth slogging through.



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